Alexandria principal Kris Clark started an after-school program to encourage boys to read. Arlington principal Holly Hawthorne encourages teachers to use techniques that help children understand the lesson material rather than just having them memorize facts to pass tests.
Both educators are known for caring about not just their schools but the wider community as well.
They have been named principal of the year by their school systems and given the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award, sponsored by The Washington Post. They were among 18 principals from the region who were scheduled to be honored at a ceremony and reception at The Post last night.
Clark, who is principal at Hammond Middle School, has worked to foster strong ties between the school and the community.
"It is very important that the schools and the community have good relationships," said Clark, who has been principal at Hammond since 2000.
For example, when neighbors complained about students' rowdy behavior at bus stops, Clark staked out the stops in her car. Some mornings she switched cars so she wouldn't be recognized.
When she spotted students yelling and roughhousing, she got out of her car and confronted them. The stunned students instantly transformed into angels.
Clark recalled telling the children: "I know how wonderful you are, but the neighbors here don't know that." She asked them to pass the time without disturbing the residents. After a few stakeouts, the rowdiness subsided.
"It didn't take very many visits for them to realize I was watching," she said.
Clark had another purpose for the stakeouts -- to provide a model of how adults can talk to children effectively.
"If you treat any kid with respect, they give that back to you tenfold," she said. "My goal is not to punish children but to educate them."
Hammond faces challenges. Most of its 1,200 students speak a language other than English at home, and Clark has helped teachers develop ways of handling the varied skills in the diverse student body.
"Kris fully understands the development of children and that they all develop at their own rate and in their own time," Carol L. Keller, who was PTA president when Clark was named principal, wrote in a letter supporting her nomination for the award.
Hammond Associate Principal Kathy L. Taylor credits Clark with pushing staff members to work to improve test scores.
"She adeptly keeps the daily instructional focus on standards and continuously emphasizes student-centered learning," Taylor wrote in a nomination letter. "Her commitment to the emotional and intellectual development of the children is reflected in her daily practices."
Another success for which Clark has been praised is the launching of the Boys in Literacy Initiative. The reading club was organized two years ago in response to national studies that showed that elementary and middle school boys weren't reading as well as girls.
The group, which meets after school, reads books that tend to be of interest to boys -- such as stories about vampires and extreme sports -- watches movies, and undertakes field trips and other activities. Club members' reading skills have improved.
This fall, a group of girls organized a club, Girls Empowered to Model Success, to focus on topics of interest to them, such as health and fitness.
The boys' club "had a real positive effect not just among the guys but among the girls," said Alexandria Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry, who recommended Clark for the award. "I guess a little competition never hurts."
Similarly, at Arlington Traditional School, Hawthorne has sought innovative ways to inspire students.
She was one of the first Arlington principals to embrace a teaching technique known as "understanding by design," said Superintendent Robert G. Smith.
"There are some things that are traditional there, but they are open to new instructional practices," Smith said. Hawthorne, he said, is an "energetic cheerleader for the school."
Said Hawthorne, who has been principal of the school since 1992: "We're not just teaching for test but teaching for meaning. If children understand the information, they will be able to pass those tests."
The school, which is a countywide magnet school, has waiting lists for every grade level.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education recognized Arlington Traditional School as a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, one of six in Virginia. Hawthorne's colleagues say her leadership was instrumental in the school's being honored.
"She gets the job done," said Elena Manville, a PTA officer who wrote a letter nominating Hawthorne for the leadership award. "It doesn't matter what kind of families the kids come from or what race they are."
The school has also attained recognition in the community by being the sister school to the Arlington Academy of Hope, a 200-student rural school founded in the East African nation of Uganda last year by Arlington parents John and Joyce Wanda. Hawthorne has overseen Arlington Traditional's support of the academy and has used the opportunity to encourage her students to learn more about Africa and the importance of citizenship and service.
"It has given them the satisfaction to be able to help people on another continent," said Hawthorne, whose students wear T-shirts on Fridays that match those worn in the Ugandan school the same day. "As the world shrinks, the importance of understanding other cultures is even more important."
For Hawthorne, educational strategies and community involvement are part of her mission to help students learn to think and make good decisions.
"She has her finger on the pulse of the school," wrote Sandra W. von Kaenel, a reading specialist at the school, in a nomination letter. "From greeting the students as they enter the building in the morning to telling them goodbye as they board the buses at day's end, she is continuously encouraging them to be the best they can be."