Before Brenda Lewis became principal of Loch Lomond Elementary in Manassas, the school was going through a difficult time.

Some administrators had said the small school lacked cohesiveness and support from parents. Test scores were low.

In five years, Lewis has turned the school into one of the county's gems. Loch Lomond has twice been recognized as a Prince William County School of Excellence. It is fully accredited by the state and is making "adequate yearly progress," a federal standard created by the No Child Left Behind Act. And more than 80 percent of the students, almost half of whom are economically disadvantaged, are passing the SOL tests in English, history, math and science.

Lewis is among the winners of this year's Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards, given by The Washington Post. Seventeen principals in the metropolitan area were chosen by their school systems and will receive a crystal school bell and a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands for an educational seminar next summer. Manassas and Manassas Park did not select winners this year.

"What I'm doing is accepting this on behalf of the Loch Lomond staff," Lewis said. The staff's work has spurred the school's success, she said.

Loch Lomond has 430 students this year, with a minority enrollment of 59 percent. Thirty-one percent receive services for students who are learning English.

Lewis tells the students they are "learning for a lifetime. They know I'm not just learning it for today, or learning it for fifth grade," she said.

Lewis has invested in additional reading teachers and in-house training for teachers and other staff members.

According to the teachers, parents and administrators who nominated her, Lewis is an approachable principal who invites students into her office to play Scrabble or bingo. She takes home a selection of homework from each student and writes comments so students know that she supports their work.

"A little over a year ago, our son arrived from Kazakhstan speaking not a word of English," one parent, Evelyn McKay, wrote in support of Lewis's nomination. "Today, he speaks English like it was his native tongue, is on grade level, and most importantly, he loves school.

"His incredible educational success is directly attributable to the excellent educational management skills of . . . Brenda Lewis."

From a school that was designated as "needs improvement," Lewis has created a success, but she shares the praise with those who teach and attend Loch Lomond. "We function as a family here," she said.

Loch Lomond Elementary Principal Brenda Lewis, shown in 1999, the year she took the job. Lewis said the school functions "as a family."