To help motivate her Stafford County students to read 8,000 books in five weeks, Kimberly J. Austin promised to take to the skies. After the children successfully completed the reading drive, the principal of Kate Waller Barrett Elementary School went sky diving, leaping from a plane 21/2 miles above the Earth.

Austin and 17 other principals were honored for their high standards as educators and administrators during a ceremony last night at The Washington Post. They received the newspaper's 2005 Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards for going beyond the daily demands of their jobs to create an exceptional educational environment.

"What educators do for the community is indescribable and wonderful," said Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., who presented the awards before almost 200 principals, superintendents, teachers and family members.

Chosen by their school systems, the 17 area public school principals and one private school leader were recognized for improved standardized test scores and for their personal approaches to motivating students, teachers and parents.

Graham, who read excerpts from the nominations, said Principal Wayne Ryan had turned around Noyes Elementary School in Northeast Washington by holding reading campaigns for students, weekly professional development workshops for teachers and informal monthly meetings with parents.

Donald E. Cooke, principal of La Plata High School in Charles County, was cited for having a 2005 graduating class that received $9.5 million in scholarship money. Eighty-two percent of the students were accepted to a college or university.

Justin McKay, a former student of Loudoun County's Douglass School in Leesburg, wrote that the principal, John H. Robinson, "inspired me to do better, because he made me believe I was a better person than I thought I was."

Winners won a crystal bell and a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas next year to take part in a seminar run by the newspaper.

Other winners, their schools and school systems are:

Kristen K. Clark, Francis C. Hammond Middle, Alexandria; Elisabeth A. Griffith, Madeira School, a private school in McLean; Holly Hawthorne, Arlington Traditional, Arlington County; Stephen D. Hockett, formerly of Hunters Woods Elementary, currently of McNair Elementary, Fairfax County; and Diana Lambert-Aikens, West Gate Elementary, Prince William County.

Also, Sharon Morell, Severna Park Middle, Anne Arundel County; Anthony V. Navarro, Mount Harmony Elementary, Calvert County; Helena Nobles-Jones, Charles Herbert Flowers High, Prince George's County; Jerrold C. Perlet, Sherwood Elementary, Montgomery County; and Perry B. Pope, Osbourn High, Manassas.

Also, Jill Snyder-Mills, Esperanza Middle, St. Mary's County; Marlene A. Tarr, Governor Thomas Johnson High, Frederick County; Susan J. Webster, Triadelphia Ridge Elementary, Howard County; and Douglas M. White, C.M. Bradley Elementary, Fauquier County.

Kimberly Austin, left, an elementary school principal in Stafford, and Kristen Clark, a middle school principal in Alexandria, were among the winners.