Wayne Ryan doesn't always do things the easy way.

After graduating from the Howard University School of Law in 1981, he practiced law in Texas for nine years and then decided on a career in education.

"When I came into law, I was working with juveniles, and I realized that by the time I got to these kids, it was too late," Ryan said. "That was one of my major motivations of why I went into education."

Ryan, principal since 2001 of Crosby S. Noyes Elementary School on 10th Street NE in Brookland, is the D.C. recipient of this year's Distinguished Educational Leadership Award, sponsored by The Washington Post.

Ryan, who was selected by the school district, and 17 other principals from the metropolitan area were scheduled to be honored at a ceremony last night at The Post.

Kellee A. Payne, a first-grade teacher who has worked with Ryan for three years, praised the principal in one of several letters supporting his nomination.

"Mr. Ryan upholds high standards of educational excellence by instilling values in his staff and students," Payne wrote. "He leads by example. He imparts a sense of duty by fulfilling his obligations."

After teaching in Brooklyn, Ryan, 49, was named principal at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in the District in 1998.

At Noyes Elementary, he has implemented a program, called "Bring Reading to Life Day," during which the adults at the school dress as their favorite character from a children's book and tell pupils how that character has affected their life. He has also initiated a student walk for the homeless.

For Ryan, the award is further confirmation that leaving a profitable law practice to go into education was the right choice. "Law is more lucrative, there is no denying, but my needs have always been met," he said. "I guess something called out to me."

Wayne Ryan, principal at Noyes Elementary.