Veteran educator Joanne Uyeda, Abingdon Elementary School principal, was recently recognized as the Arlington Public Schools 2006 "Principal of the Year" and a winner of the Washington Post's Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.
Uyeda has worked in Arlington County Schools for more than 25 years, first as a teacher and then as an administrator. She has served as principal of Abingdon since 2001.
Uyeda's most visible impact has been the introduction of Project GIFT (Gaining Instruction, Fostering Talents), now in its third full year. This program allows all students to study such topics as communications, architecture and lab science with teachers dedicated specifically to those areas.
Research has connected academic achievement with music instruction, and GIFT has a prominent musical aspect. All students learn the violin in fourth grade and then choose to continue with it or pursue another instrument in fifth grade.
Abingdon was the first Arlington school to eliminate early-release Wednesdays, which gave teachers a long block to plan lessons. Now, students have a full day on Wednesday and teachers use the time each day when students are in music or other GIFT classes.
Third grade teacher Jason Finch said that Uyeda has created a positive atmosphere at Abingdon, leading a staff that is dedicated "not just to [improving] test scores but to achieve complete students." He feels that Uyeda distinguishes herself from other principals by employing a vision to "foster community and improve achievement."
Preschool teachers Kim Kerby and Kim Dean have been at Abingdon for 13 years, and have noted a sharp rise in morale among teachers, students and parents since Uyeda arrived. They describe Uyeda's innovations as "awesome," and Kerby has been so impressed with Uyeda's leadership and programs that she sends her own kids to Abingdon even though they live in Alexandria.
Tina Masciangioli, co-president of the Abingdon Parent Teacher's Association, has also been very impressed with Uyeda and the teachers. When she moved to the Abingdon district three years ago with husband Sumi Chatterjee and sons Ishan and Akash, the school was not doing as well. Chatterjee described the neighborhood as mostly low-income, with many families whose native language was not English. Chatterjee and Masciangioli had sent their sons to Montessori preschool and had concerns about Abingdon, but were so impressed by the energy and dedication of the teachers and Uyeda that they decided to stick with their neighborhood school.
Three years later, Masciangioli said the PTA is thriving with above-average involvement of parents and teachers. She lauded the teachers who "stay after school and do extra things" and sensed that they are doing extra because they want to, not because they are forced to. She recognized that this attitude stems from Uyeda's example and her willingness to be very involved in all aspects of the school.
Chatterjee calls the steady rise in standardized test and accreditation scores and high achievement "a source of pride for the whole community" and noted that parents in other districts are trying to send their kids to Abingdon.
Uyeda, who lives with her husband and 10-year-old daughter in Falls Church, professed to love her job and could not see ever "not working directly with children." She is happy with the progress that has been made, but is "always looking to tweak and improve our program." She feels "truly, truly honored" by the awards, but deflected the credit, saying "I have to share it with everyone here, it's the work of the entire staff."