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New Leader at Sugarland

Ostrowski values opening up school to its community.

Teaching and learning are two loves for Sugarland Elementary School’s principal Jennifer Ostrowski, a self-proclaimed life-long learner.

"I hope I can share with the community my joy of learning, my joy of being in a school," Ostrowski said about starting as the school’s principal on Jan. 22.

Since she was a child, Ostrowski knew she wanted to teach. On snow days, she played school. She worked as a camp counselor or director for seven years through the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Recreation. Seeing this, her parents, friends and those she worked with at the camp told her she should go into teaching, so she did. "It seemed only natural for me," said the Maryland native.

Ostrowski majored in biology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. before she decided she would prefer studying elementary education for the bachelor of arts degree she earned in 1990. She took a teaching position and continued her education, earning a master's degree in elementary education and leadership in 1994 from George Mason University, where she is now finishing her doctorate degree.

In 1990, Ostrowski took her first teaching job at Clearview Elementary School in Fairfax County, remaining with Fairfax County Public Schools for five years. She taught at each grade level from kindergarten-fifth at a total of three schools. "I was teaching students who looked like me," she said, adding that she sought a teaching position in Long Beach, Calif., where she taught English language learners for two years at a bilingual elementary school with classes taught in both English and Spanish. During her last year there, she facilitated a Title I program.

While in California, Ostrowski took several classes on assessing students and working with their needs, and set up individualized student plans for her own students. She took up an interest in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and took several ESL and Spanish-language classes. She has one class left toward her doctorate degree in multicultural ESL.

IN 1998, Ostrowski returned to Northern Virginia to work for Loudoun County Public Schools as an assistant principal at Sully Elementary School. "I felt I could impact a larger number of students going into administration," she said. "I enjoy working with teachers as well, doing staff development. … I like when I can give teachers ideas they can take back to the classroom."

Two years later, Ostrowski took a one-year break to work on her doctorate full-time. In 2001, she became an assistant principal at Potowmack Elementary School, working there for one-and-a-half years until this January when she took the principalship position at Sugarland Elementary School. She said she wanted to impact a larger community of students, parents and teachers.

"She just has an incredible love for children. She will be a wonderful principal. And she will work with the community to embrace the wonderful qualities of that school," said Janet Radcliffe, principal at Potowmack Elementary School for the past two years.

Ostrowski learned the example of the principals at both Potowmack and Sully elementary schools including how to promote a school, she said. Her goal at Sugarland Elementary School will be to promote that school by inviting parents and the community to see the school in action and by talking with teachers to find out their ideas for the school. "Whatever it’s going to take, I’m going to do it," she said. "I want Sugarland to continue to be a community school. I want to involve the teachers, parents and community members in making decisions for the school that will benefit as many students as possible."

Ostrowski said she looks at students not just academically but considers the whole child, including the child’s cultural, social and emotional needs. "We need to make sure we’re addressing all areas of a child’s needs," she said.

"She always has the children’s interests at heart," said Julie McKay, principal at Hillsboro Elementary School, who has known Ostrowski for five years. "She can see the whole picture but also bring the discussion or issue back to what’s best for the child. She’s a life-long learner herself, so she’s a great role model for her students and staff."

OSTROWSKI ENJOYS watching both students and adults learn. "The best feeling for me is to see someone say, ‘Ah, I got it. What a great idea,’" she said, adding that she loves to see the process of learning in action and that the love of learning is something teachers naturally have.

"Not only are you watching the students learn, you’re watching the teachers learn as well," Ostrowski said. "It’s such a great job. I can always go into a classroom and see learning take place. Students learn and teachers learn."

Ostrowski’s position became available when the school’s former principal, Lisbeth Fye, took a principalship position at Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School in Leesburg to help open the school in fall 2003.

Ostrowski "has a wonderful ability to connect with teachers and she's a very strong instructional leader," Radcliffe said. "Those qualities and the way she cares for the children will make her an excellent principal."

Ostrowski and Glenn Ostrowski, director of engineering for a Maryland company, married in fall 2002.