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New Principal Comes to Crestwood

Former Riverside assistant principal prepares for first year at the helm.

Kathleen McDonald, assistant principal at Crestwood Elementary School, said she has met with incoming principal Mary Person and now looks forward to working with her on a daily basis.

"I feel that I'm going to be able to learn a lot from her," said McDonald, noting that Person struck her as highly focused and eager to bring staff, parents and students into cooperation.

"I've been working very hard to make sure this is a smooth transition," said Person, who has been holding one-on-one meetings with all of the school's teachers "just to get some information on what works at Crestwood and how to extend and enrich what's already here." She also met with the PTA board and conducted a parent night "to get all that newness out of the way," she said.

After more than 20 years of working for Fairfax County schools, including 11 years as a reading teacher and the last four years as the assistant principal of Riverside Elementary in the Alexandria area, this will be Person's first year serving as a principal. "I like to be responsible for impacting the achievement of the kids and watching them grow," she said. "That's rewarding to me."

McDonald said the school would take advantage of Person’s background in reading, which also includes three years of developing language arts curriculum, to boost Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores. The unofficial data from last year's testing indicated that the school had successfully boosted its math scores and could now use some work in the area of reading and writing, said McDonald.

"One of my goals is to ensure that we're delivering a strong language arts program," said Person. She explained that this meant fewer worksheets, an individual teaching approach for each student and a combination of guided reading, shared reading and solo reading. "You’ve got to offer a variety of ways for kids to learn," she said.

PERSON NOTED that language is important at Crestwood, where about 55 percent of the student body is Hispanic, according to last year's data. To accommodate the large number of non English-speaking parents, the school employs a Spanish-speaking parent liaison and sends out all letters, fliers and documents in both languages, she said. A translator was present at last week's parent night.

Person said she speaks "un poco" Spanish and will likely take a class this year to boost her proficiency.

"I think she'll enjoy working with the Hispanic community and the large ESOL [English Speakers of Other Languages] population we have," said McDonald.

Person noted that the language barrier does not come between the community and the school, which is situated in the middle of a large residential area. "We are very close to the community," she said, pointing out that the school has only one bus, while most of the students walk, and that it employs a vigorous outreach program. "I think that's one of the strongest things about Crestwood," said Person, adding that after some 50 years, the school has become "a historic rock in the community."

Also new this year is the entire PTA, including President Deysi Camacho. "She's a wonderful lady," Camacho said of Person. "She's sweet, and she looks like she's going to work hard for our children." She said the new PTA hopes to get more parents involved in school activities this year and that Person had shown an interest in attracting parent participation and keeping the PTA informed.

"We have a new principal and a new PTA, and we're going to work together," said Camacho.

McDonald, who has been at the school for 2 1/2 years, said she will do all she can to guide the transition, as Person is the school’s third principal during her tenure. The last principal, Dr. Judith Thompson, is working in the school's Human Resources Department until she retires in October, said McDonald.

Person said she is happy to be staying in the school system. "Schools are the best places to work — being around kids and being able to mold and shape them and really impact their learning," she said.