To explain why Mary Beth Pelosky is so enthusiastic about her new position as principal of Nottingham Elementary School, she offers the following anecdote:
When the librarian arrived at the new school building for the first time last week, the floor of the library was covered with dozens of large boxes containing books, maps and other school equipment.
It would have taken her hours set up the entire library on her own. So several parents donated their time to help her complete the thankless task.
That’s the kind of school community Nottingham is, Pelosky said.
"I’ve been amazed by the wealth of input and volunteers," Pelosky said, sitting in her new office at the school's entrance.
Her goal "is to continue to foster that sense of community and bring it to the forefront," Pelosky added.
Pelosky comes to Nottingham after serving as assistant principal at Swanson Middle School for four years. During that time period she also earned a second master’s degree in educational leadership and principal certification from George Washington University.
School administrators and Superintendent Robert Smith were impressed with her ambition and leadership skills. But just as important to them was her 8-year record as a teacher at Barrett Elementary School, where she taught fifth grade and English as a second language classes.
At Barrett, Pelosky helped run citizenship classes and spent many nights visiting immigrant families whose children she taught.
"Mary Beth is bringing administrative experience [to Nottingham], but also some great instructional experience," said Superintendent Smith. "We wanted someone with a mind for instruction and good sense for school issues."
Her time as an elementary school teacher has helped endear her to the staff.
"We have an understanding because she has walked in our shoes," said Linda Toner, a Kindergarten teacher who has worked at Nottingham for 12 years. "She understands what kind of community we are and our high expectations."
The greatest challenge for any principal in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind rules, Pelosky said, is to find the balance between maintaining high test scores and staying attuned to the educational needs of all students.
"We can’t lose sight of what we’re here for — to inspire and enthuse young learners," she said.
While Pelosky has yet to preside as principal over a single school day, she is already molding Nottingham to fit her guiding philosophy.
For this year she is mandating scheduling blocks, ensuring that all teachers spend a comparable amount of time on each subject area.
A major goal of Pelosky’s is to foster better communication between teachers, so that they can compare notes and dispense advice more easily. She is planning on requiring cross-grade meetings and greater interaction between regular teachers and reading specialists.
She is also looking to encourage teachers to break down the barriers between subject areas. For example, a history lesson on Virginia’s distinct regions could parlay into a discussion on climate and topography, Pelosky said.
So far teachers have had nothing but praise for the changes Pelosky is planning to implement.
"I think she will add a refreshing spirit toward education that will help invigorate the staff at the school," said Renee Schaefer, a fifth grade teacher. "We are definitely turning over a new leaf."