Four years ago, just after Thanksgiving, Dogwood Elementary School in Reston was destroyed by an overnight electrical fire.
Dogwood’s principal, Ricki Harvey, told her skeptical husband she would have the school back up and running within 14 months.
"I told him, 'You just stick with me,’" she said. "We’re going to do this."
In just over a year, Harvey had proven her prediction accurate, having overseen the opening of a bigger, better Dogwood Elementary, complete with all teacher and student materials replaced.
Last Friday, for her success in quickly getting Dogwood back on its feet, and for keeping its students and teachers focused on academics during the crisis, Harvey was named Virginia’s recipient of the National Distinguished Principal of the Year Award.
Harvey, who had not been told about winning the national award, had been sequestered all morning with busy-work assigned to her by her boss, Cluster Director Betsy Goodman. All the while, secret planning was underway for a school-wide assembly with everyone from Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) to Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Education Jo Lynne DeMary in attendance.
Harvey said she was flabbergasted when she walked into the school’s gymnasium and was greeted by all of her students and teachers, family, and state and local government and education officials.
She credited Dogwood’s teachers and staff with making the school’s quick recovery from the fire possible and with helping to boost student test scores.
"This staff has gone down a really long road on a journey with me," she said.
During the school’s construction, Dogwood’s 650 students were bused to six different schools. Such a disruption could have had a negative impact on a young student’s education. But thanks largely to Harvey’s leadership, student achievement is climbing, said Fairfax County School Board Member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill).
"This school has been on the rise for a good five years," Gibson said. "She’s always kept the kids and the teachers focused on learning and it’s paying off."
HARVEY’S LEADERSHIP, in the days after the fire and today, has been key for Dogwood, which is a school facing challenges of poverty and a higher than usual percentage of students enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program.
"Certainly the fire was devastating, but I’m amazed at what this woman did to put this school back together and since," said Luanne Grabski, Dogwood’s president of the Parent Teacher Association.
The major award presented to Harvey on Friday is evidence of Harvey’s skill and talent as an elementary school administrator, said Fairfax County Public School’s Chief Academic Officer Laura Thomas.
"When there was that terrible day four years ago, we thought it would never get better," she said. "Now, not only (has Harvey) made it better, (she) has made it the best."
Diane Edwards, the school’s Student Council Association president, told the assembly on Friday that Harvey is known among the students as an administrator always striving to ensure their learning environment is cheerful.
"Whenever she has bad days, she’s still smiling," Edwards said. "She always tries to put on a good act for us students."
Next year, Harvey will travel around the country representing Virginia at educational conferences and events. Along with the recipients from the other 49 states, she will also meet with President George W. Bush at the White House.