When Mary Agnes Garman, principal at Kings Park Elementary School, heard a presentation by Woodley Hills Principal Rima Vesiland at a meeting for the Fairfax Association of Elementary School Teachers, she was impressed. The presentation, titled "Tale of Two Schools," was about creating highly effective schools in at-risk communities. Garman told Vesiland that "people need to know about this." As a result, Garman nominated Vesiland for the Don Lacey Award for Excellence.
Last month, Vesiland received notification from the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals that she had been named the recipient of the Don Lacey Award for Excellence. The award honors principals for "being strongly committed to the principalship and for demonstrating strong educational leadership to benefit the students of Woodley Hills Elementary."
"I'm surprised and delighted," said Vesiland. "What makes this award especially appropriate is that Don Lacey was one of the first principals at Woodley Hills."
For three straight years, Vesiland has been credited with improving Woodley Hills Elementary from an at-risk school to a Project Excel Gold Award winner. This was a result of students' scores on standardized tests rising at least 15 points each year in the School Achievement Index score.
Vesiland also championed a pilot laptop computer program, expanding it to make laptop computers available to all fifth grade students, and fourth through sixth grade students in the school’s English for speakers of other languages classes.
The program resulted in students nearly doubling their pass rates for the Standards of Learning tests from third to fifth grades. The school also achieved nearly 100 percent involvement by parents in their children's classes.
"THE LAPTOP PROGRAM is wonderful. We were very careful to do good research, and we found significant gains in the student's learning rate," said Vesiland.
Another effect of the laptop program was the decrease in the mobility rate. Vesiland said that normally 37 percent of the students move from one school to another, but students in the classes which participated in the laptop program had a zero percent mobility rate.
"For some of these students, it was the first time that they had spent a full year in the same class," said Vesiland, who is planning to create a parent information resource center at the school. This will allow parents of students to come into the school and use the computers and take classes.
"It will be a good resource for parents," said Vesiland.
Vesiland was also cited for her school being chosen to partner with and mentor a Richmond school as part of Gov. Mark Warner's Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools program during the 2002-03 school year.
This year, Woodley Hills has added an Introduction to Foreign Language segment in all sixth-grade Social Studies classes as part of the elementary school International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Vesiland hopes that this will get them closer to their goal of being fully certified as an IB school by the end of the year.
Sharon Aldredge, assistant principal at Woodley Hills, said, "She [Vesiland] deserves all the awards she's received. She is an amazing person and administrator. She is very dedicated and listens to the needs of the parents and community."
Aldredge also said that Vesiland has been a mentor to her since she came to the school three years ago. "She taught me a lot," she said.
NEXT MONTH, Woodley Hills will play host to educators participating in the 2003 National Forum, "A National Call to Character."
As a result of their 2001 National School of Character Award, they will be a school visitation site for teachers and administrators focusing on how communities build character development initiatives by capitalizing on the strengths of character education, social and emotional learning, safe and drug free schools, service learning, after school enrichment programs and civic education to educate the whole child — both academically and ethically.
"They're going to pay $35 to come see us, isn't that amazing?" said Vesiland.