For the first few weeks of July, Robyn Cochran has perused hundreds of resumes and held many lengthy interviews, trying to find the right people to fill several teacher vacancies at Dogwood Elementary School.
This has been just one major duty for the former Dogwood teacher who recently took over as principal.
Cochran, who has 20 years experience in Fairfax County Public Schools, replaced Ricki Harvey as principal, starting the job July 1. Harvey, who recently retired, served seven years as principal at Dogwood, where she concluded her 33-year career with the county.
Cochran, who taught kindergarten through second grade at Dogwood from 1989 to 1994, is getting to know Dogwood all over again.
“Coming back here has been really exciting for me,” said Cochran, who also lived in Reston 14 years ago. “It’s a new role for me, but I’m coming back to a school and a community I really love.”
COCHRAN HAS also noticed that she’s coming back to a different school than she remembers. The Dogwood she knew burned down in an electrical fire in 2000, and the school was rebuilt a year later.
Cochran, who lives in Centreville, comes most recently from serving three years as an assistant principal of London Towne Elementary, a large school in Centreville with more than 800 students.
Before that Cochran served as a specialist in the county’s office of staff development, coordinating the Great Beginnings’ mentor program for three years. The program was designed to provide support for all teachers new to the county.
“Through that opportunity I became interested in school-based leadership, which is what principals do,” she said. In 2000, Cochran received her master’s degree in education from George Mason University, specializing in curriculum and instruction. She went to the University of Virginia for her administrative work, receiving an endorsement in 2003.
Cochran has 13 years experience as a classroom teacher, something she thought she would do her entire career. “I always dreamed about being a teacher as a kid,” said Cochran. She said it was her love of instruction that eventually led her to become a principal.
She started her career as a teacher at Baileys Elementary School in Falls Church, where she taught before transferring to Dogwood.
After her time at Dogwood, Cochran spent periods teaching at Aldrin Elementary in Reston and Deer Park Elementary in Centreville.
“The moves that I made were for career growth,” said Cochran. “I believe that has made me a stronger teacher because of those opportunities.”
The former Reston resident has fond memories of her teaching experience at Dogwood. “I felt I really became an experienced teacher at this school because of the opportunities for career development and by working with outstanding colleagues,” she said. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a teacher.”
NOW COCHRAN looks forward to continuing the progress that has been made over the years at Dogwood. “Principal Harvey took great strides to continue to increase our student achievement, and my plan is to continue and sustain that,” said Cochran. “We will continue to look at our student data, analyze that student data, highlight our strengths and plan specifically for our areas of weakness.”
Cochran faces many of the same challenges that her predecessor dealt with. While half of Dogwood’s enrollment receives free or reduced-priced lunches and 37 percent of students are enrolled in English for speakers of other languages classes, the school has had difficulty meeting learning standards.
Because of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, students across the country have been required to meet certain standards of learning. The law can force changes to schools classified as Title I, like Dogwood, which have a high percentage of students who receive free or reduce-price lunches and also receive federal funds for math and reading support. If a Title I school does not meet standards in the same subject for two consecutive years, then its students will be given an option to transfer to another school within the school division.
This was the case for Dogwood last year. In 2004, for the second consecutive year, the school failed to meet standards and was then required to offer students the option to transfer. Fifteen students opted to change schools.
COCHRAN IS confident that Dogwood will make improvements and plans to focus on student achievement. “The focus of schools is no longer on active teaching, it’s on student learning, and our state standards and No Child Left Behind is supporting us do that to make our teaching stronger,” she said, adding that Dogwood has been fully accredited by the state. She credits the staff, particularly Assistant Principal Linda Thetford, for helping her to get to know Dogwood again. “I’ve taken a lot of time to get to know the staff and I have a lot of students to get to know,” said Cochran. “I’d like to get it all done immediately, but it will take time.”
Cochran and her husband, Brian, who is a middle-school teacher in the county, live in Centreville. Their son, Matthew, will be a freshman at Centreville High School this fall.