They are veteran educators who started their careers in the classroom. But as principals, they work at opposite ends of the K-12 world.

Jerrold C. Perlet is an elementary principal in Montgomery County -- charged with the early years of his students' academic careers. Marlene A. Tarr is a high school principal in Frederick County, responsible for preparing students to leave the academic nest.

Together, colleagues and parents say, they represent all that is right about public schools and the people who lead them. That is why they are winners of the 2005-06 Distinguished Educational Leadership Award presented by The Washington Post.

"We really felt that he is really just an outstanding leader,'' said Jennifer Klein, a staff-development teacher at Sherwood Elementary School in Sandy Spring, where Perlet is principal. "With him, kids really come first. Whenever we talk about program needs, he always wants to know what we need in order to help the children. He really cares for the children, and he really cares for the staff."

Tarr is also praised for her leadership. Marlene Tarr "has managed to completely change our largest and most challenging high school into our system's 'flagship' school," wrote Henry Bohlander, Frederick County associate superintendent, in a letter to the awards committee.

Perlet, 54, who has been principal at the Sandy Spring campus since July 1998, said the award came as a surprise. Staff members and parents at Sherwood worked in secrecy, coordinating with Perlet's wife, Marie, to gather the materials for his nomination packet.

Being a principal can be one of the toughest jobs in education, many say. But Perlet said he has succeeded by following the advice he gives new principals: Find your style.

"A lot of being a principal has to do with your own personality,'' he said. "How do you organize your day? What's your time of day? For me, it's most important to get inside the classrooms, so I do my paper work in the early mornings and late evenings."

Nancy Mixson, another Sherwood teacher, wrote about Perlet's hands-on style in her nomination letter.

"No problem is too small or large for him,'' she wrote. One incident that stuck in her mind was when she needed a wipe board installed in her room. School system officials said they would not be able to install the board until after school started. Mixson was disappointed.

"Then the next thing I know, Jerry, himself, has installed the wipe board on the wall in my room,'' she continued. "For Jerry, being ready for the students is first, even if he does it himself."

Making sure other people have what they need to get their job done is what his job is all about.

"What I enjoy about what I do is the problem-solving,'' Perlet said. "Every day I'm faced with new challenges, and I have to come up with new ways to solve them."

Tarr, the principal of Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, grew up in Kentucky and has lived in Frederick for the past 30 years. She was praised by fellow educators and parents for her leadership skills at the high school, the school system's largest.

Since taking charge in 2001, she has established an arts and communications magnet program, "career clusters" that prepare students for the working world and a ninth-grade academy to bolster the performance of her youngest students.

Tarr, 58, has taught at every level of the school system, working with preschoolers, elementary and middle school students, and adults and the elderly. She said the high schoolers she looks after now are one of her favorite age groups.

"I love the energy and creativity of kids at this age," she said. "Everything's possible when you're 16. All doors are open."

Tarr also won praise for her ability to work with problem students, meeting once or twice a week with teachers and parents to track the progress of students who were regularly called to the office for disciplinary infractions.

"If we simply start giving students discipline consequences without even asking the parents for help, then we have not tried hard enough to change the child's behavior," said Jack A. Newkirk II, who worked with Tarr as an assistant principal before becoming principal of Catoctin High School. "Ms. Tarr would repeatedly talk with parents about the need for us to take the journey together with their child in the education process."

By the time she arrived at Thomas Johnson, Tarr was a veteran at dealing with tough cases. After working as a speech and language pathologist, she began her full-time career with the Frederick County school system as a special education teacher at Linganore High School in 1979 and became the central coordinator of special education by 1988. The next year, she was named principal of Heather Ridge High School, an alternative public school for students with behavioral disorders. She then moved to Catoctin High in 1996, where she served five years as principal.

"It was nice to read all those things," she said of the letters of recommendation and the letters she has received since the award's announcement. "So many of the things you do, you just do it day in and day out. It's your job, and you don't think about the impact of the things you do."

MARLENE A. TARR