Teaching has always come naturally to Sully Elementary School Principal Clark Bowers. With his father and grandfather working as teachers, then administrators and finally superintendent of schools and aunts and uncles who were teachers, it was in his blood.
"There has never been a time when I haven't been running around a school," the West Virginia native said.
Bowers knew he wanted to work with children from the time he was a child himself. At the age of 12, Bowers realized that he connected with children.
"Whenever we played games in my neighborhood, I was always working with the kids," he said.
He can still picture the moment, he said, when he knew he wanted to be a teacher. The basketball game, the two neighborhood children he was playing with.
"It was not only teaching them, but protecting them and being there for them," Bowers said.
AT THE END of the month, Bowers will be able to apply his love for working with children to the families of Dulles South. After three years at the helm of Sully elementary, Bowers will become the principal of the new Arcola Elementary School beginning Jan. 26. Arcola is scheduled to open this fall, one of three new elementary schools opening in the county this year.
"You get to try something that is going to be a challenge and something that a lot of administrators don't get the opportunity to do," Bowers said about deciding to move to Arcola. "It is a chance to utilize some of the gifts and skills that I have been given."
Bowers is excited about the opportunity that working at Arcola has presented him.
"You get to take something that is nonexistent and build it, build your team until that team is ready to go on day one," he said.
ARCOLA ELEMENTARY is not the first time Bowers has been part of an opening staff at a new school. In his second year teaching, he opened a middle school in the Augusta County school system, an experience he called "unique and exciting."
"But then you are only responsible for one area of the school," he said. "This will be different."
One of the first things that Bowers will have to do as Arcola's principal is hire a teaching staff and, he said, he has a couple of requirements that every teacher must meet.
"They have to care about kids," he said. "And they have to convince me they really care about kids."
In addition, Bowers said he is looking for teachers who are independent, have their own voice and who aren't afraid to challenge things and who know how to listen.
"If you have a teacher with those things, you have someone who will do whatever they can to provide an exceptional education for kids," he said, “you really have a powerful person who can influence a lot of kids and guarantee they are going to be successful."
FOR BOWERS, the most important thing in being a good administrator and creating a successful school is trust.
"Without that you can't even begin to build a team," he said.
Bowers said that trust comes from all different aspects of the school, including not only teachers, but parents and students. He takes the time to get to know his students, even if it is just as the friendly face walking down the hallway or giving them a high five, so that a relationship develops outside of his office.
"Any time I see a child [in his office] there is that relationship underneath," Bowers said. "Children will listen, children will meet those expectations you set, as long as you have that trust."
As part of developing a positive relationship with parents, Bowers believes in open communication and honesty.
"You have to understand that you are one piece of a puzzle," he said. "You have to make sure that what you are doing [as an administrator] allows parents the autonomy to make decisions for their kids because they have a vested interest in them. Then you work with them, set parameters, so they can make a decision that is good for all kids. They can trust me to do what is best for their children."
Bowers believes that each child is different and each day is different, but that a successful school comes from a consistent goal and core value system.
"When I walk in every day, I'm positive," he said. "When there are situations that occur, I am going to be positive. When I need to have that [serious] conversation, I will have that conversation, but the end result will be positive."
ONE OF THE biggest things to happen at Sully Elementary during Bowers’ tenure was the creation of Discovery Park, something that project coordinator and former PTO president Peter Kronenberg said required a lot of support.
"Dr. Bowers was very supportive of the project throughout," he said. "He is always actively involved. He was out there every day helping to build."
Bowers said he believes in taking a hands-on approach when it is needed.
"I listen to everything that goes on in the school," he said. "I will take that active role with people that might need it."
But, Bowers said, he does not believe in taking over or dictating how someone should do their job, which is where the trust he places in his teachers and parents comes in to play.
"He never had a problem if we needed access to the school," Kronenberg said. "I have his cell phone number, if I ever needed to get in touch with him. It's very easy to establish a good relationship with him."
WHILE BOWERS IS looking forward to the challenge that opening Arcola will bring him, he is sad to leave his Sully family.
"I have a terrific staff, a terrific community that has been so supportive," he said. "The kids are delightful; they appreciate what our teachers do for them. It was a difficult thing to say [that I was going to leave.]"
As for his plans for the new Arcola families, Bowers plans to spend some time in the schools where his students will transfer from.
"When they walk in on the first day, they will already know who I am," he said.
Bowers has scheduled meetings with Nancy P. Torregrossa, principal of the former Arcola Elementary, to learn about the culture of the school. With some students returning to Arcola after spending years at other schools, he wants to put together community meetings with parents to discuss if the mascot and colors from the old school should be kept or if new colors and a mascot should be selected. Bowers said he understands that some parents might differ in their opinions on the school's culture and he wants to have that conversation.
"I want to identify those parents in the community who want to be active and throw those ideas out on the table," Bowers said. "People need to have that voice. People need to be heard."