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Hughey-Guy Keeps Time for Students, Not Awards

Arlington principal of the year unifies school with individualized attention to students and parents.

Arlington’s principal of the year is a woman in high demand.

Around lunchtime on Monday, Miriam Hughey-Guy, principal of Barcroft Elementary School, pauses to make a phone call. But she keeps her priorities in mind.

“My kids are waiting for me,” she said, so she only has a few minutes to talk.

The students at Barcroft anticipate their visits from principal with pleasure. “She walks into a room full of kids, and they stand in awe,” said Marjorie Miller, the president of Barcroft’s PTA.

Just after Hughey-Guy’s lunchtime phone call, a throng of Barcroft students will welcome her to the classroom where she will commence the first Principal’s Reading Club meeting of the year.

Hughey-Guy said the students have been asking her all year, “When do we start?”

“A promise is a promise,” she said. So Monday was the day.

THE PRINCIPAL’S READING Club is just one of the ideas the Barcroft principal has implemented during her 10 years leading the school. Most recently, she led the successful drive to change Barcroft to a year-round calendar.

Hughey-Guy was named Arlington’s principal of the year last week, and was honored with the 2002 Distinguished Educational Leadership Award at a ceremony on Monday.

She said that the idea for the club initially resulted because she missed being in the classroom with students. A former physical education teacher at Key Elementary School and schools in Mecklenburg County, Hughey-Guy is accustomed to interacting with children as a way of determining how she can best serve them. The book club helps her do just that.

“I want them to know that it is very important to enjoy reading and to do a lot of reading,” she said. “But also it gives me an opportunity to see exactly where the children are in their reading skills.”

Originally the club was supposed to target a group of about 10 fifth grade students who struggled with reading skills, Hughey Guy said. But it was not long until she decided to open up the club to any fifth grader who was interested in tackling the club’s selection, a Harry Potter book. So the number climbed to 30.

“Then the fourth graders heard about what I was doing,” Hughey-Guy recalled. Now the classroom, where students congregate with their brown bag lunches and the popular 800-page books, is packed.

TOO MANY STUDENTS are never a problem for Hughey-Guy, though. She welcomes all inquisitive students.

It is common to see backpacks strewn around Hughey-Guy’s office floor and students “hanging out in her office after school” for what is informally known as “Homework Club,” said Eileen Putman, the parent of a former and a current Barcroft student, who has known Hughey-Guy for almost 10 years.

During the after-school hours, Putman, whose daughter has participated in the club, said that Hughey-Guy will go about her office tasks while students solve long division problems and study vocabulary. If the students need help, Hughey-Guy stops what she is doing and guides them.

Her office door is always open, and students can drop by any time “as long as they finish their homework, and I see it,” she said.

Barcroft’s teachers have adopted Hughey-Guy’s philosophy of individualized attention. Combined with students who are willing to put in extra study hours, it is paying off. Barcroft’s Standards of Learning (SOL) scores, calculated from a criterion set by the Virginia Board of Education and used to examine students’ performance, have risen each year for the last five years.

By 2006-7 school year, the Virginia Board of Education requires all students to pass by at least 70 percent for the school to keep accreditation. But at this point, it seems useless for Barcroft educators to worry.

This year, fifth grade students passed with scores in the mid-80 to high 90-percents for each of the tested disciplines. Back in 1998, scores in the same areas were uneven, ranging from 52 percent passing in history and 93 percent passing in technology.

STILL, THE ATTENTION Hughey-Guy gives to Barcroft’s 526 students, all of whom she knows by name, has done much more than earn her the principal of the year award. It has also helped to forge unity in the student body, which consists of 80 percent of students who come from diverse backgrounds.

Putman said that Hughey-Guy has met the needs of the student population and made Barcroft a school that parents want their children to attend. While in years before, Putman said many of the community’s students opted for alternative schools, today “the neighborhood has really come back to the school.”

Perhaps that is because Hughey-Guy is what Miller calls “a unifying force.”

“She is somebody who wants to make sure everybody has a voice,” said Miller. “She makes sure she brings in all of the different communities.”

That is one reason why Barcroft dedicates different months to honoring the heritages of the students.

“Asian Pacific month. Latino month. You name it,” said Putman.

Libia Labardini, the PTA’s vice president and Latino liaison, agrees.

“She’s really taking care of us,” said Labardini. Hughey-Guy’s leadership is so passionate, she said, that it is difficult not to want to jump on her bandwagon. “We are able to join her, even when we don’t agree.”

The same charm that unifies the Barcroft parents, works on the students as well.

Labardini said that Barcroft students listen to Hughey-Guy even when they do not necessarily feel like it because — even at their young age — they respect her.

WHEN IT COMES to unity, Hughey-Guy does not back down. Even with her principal of the year award, she’s not willing to break from the team and claim the praise. She said she is honored to receive the award, but she is only representing her colleagues who “embrace the philosophy of Barcroft that all children will be successful.”

She said one of her students dropped by her office on Friday for Homework Club. Before the student showed up, the meeting hours were scheduled only for Monday through Thursday. Now she has extended them to Friday.

“Who wants to be alone?” she said.