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New Face on the Block

Stweart Joins Guilford Team

David Stewart is getting ready for his first day of school. Like many of his students, the new Guilford Elementary School principal is looking forward to the 2006-2007 school year.

When the former principal, Debra Cookus, announced her transfer to another school, Stewart applied for the position.

"It’s always been a dream of mine and something I’ve worked toward," the Leesburg resident said.

After nine years as principal, Cookus left Guilford Elementary School because traveling from her West Virginia home to Sterling everyday became a "commuting nightmare," she said.

"If I could’ve moved Guildford a little closer, I would’ve stayed there until I retired," she said. "Guilford has some of the best teachers in the world."

Now she is principal of Emerick Elementary School in Purcellville.

FOR THE past five years, Stewart worked for Jean Hall as assistant principal at Cedar Lane Elementary School in Ashburn. There, he said, he learned how to be a positive role model and effective leader from Hall.

The Cedar Lane Elementary School principal described Stewart as friendly and personable.

"Parents have an excellent relationship with him," she said.

While the Cedar Lane staff will miss him, Hall said Guilford will benefit from his warm personality and ability to connect with parents, teachers and students.

"He really got to know the community while he was here," she said, "and we worked really well together. We could read each other’s thoughts."

Before assisting Hall at Cedar Lane Elementary School, Stewart taught fourth and fifth grade at Sander’s Corner Elementary School in Ashburn.

IN TWO weeks, Stewart will walk the halls as principal of his new school. This year’s theme, he said, is "Where Smiles Never End."

"It’s a schoolwide theme. We’re trying to bring everyone together," he said. "The main thing is, we’re here to make those kids smile, make them feel good about themselves."

In the meantime, the western Pennsylvania-native is going over previous years’ test scores and school goals.

Guilford Elementary School is made up of a diverse group of students. Cookus advised the new principal to get to know the families of the students.

"The diversity at Guilford makes it wonderful," she said. "It always makes the job difficult at times."

Almost 80 percent of Guilford’s students are enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or speak another language at home, Cookus said. A challenge, for her, was the language barrier.

Cookus was able to combat this by reaching out to the Guilford staff. She took the time to sit in on parent-teacher meetings with translators, worked closely with parent liaisons, and made sure a Spanish-speaking staff member was at the welcome desk in the school’s lobby in the morning and afternoon.

"It’s important for parents to feel welcome in their children’s school," she said.

Stewart is aware of the diversity and hopes to follow in Cookus’ footsteps and do "what already works."

His philosophy is, every student should feel welcome at Guilford.

"Kids should want to come to school," he said. "They will feel loved and welcomed here at Guilford."