When Kings Park Elementary School music teacher Jen Lucius first had the chance to meet with her new principal Sarah Skerker in the first weeks of September, she knew that Fairfax County Schools had found the perfect candidate.
"We’re a school that is constantly pushing upward, and that was my immediate impression of her goals and her character," said Lucius, who has taught at Kings Park in Springfield for six years. "You can tell with the way that she holds herself that she is just the type of person that will be there for everyone and not just pay lip service to the needs of the school. She actually will do something."
Lucius observations were a direct reflection of the new principal’s administrative strategy of a creating a wholesale collaborative environment since coming to the helm of Kings Park in September, Skerker said.
"We really wanted to hit the ground running and we’ve been doing just that," she said. "We’ve had a lot of wonderful and powerful conversations with the whole staff to map out exactly what we want to do and where everyone sees the school going."
SKERKER REPLACES departing principal Kathleen Walts, who took a position as principal in residence of Fairfax County Public Schools Professional Learning & Training Center in the first weeks of the school year.
Skerker, who had been working at that time as assistant principal for Hunter Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Reston, said that she became instantly intrigued when the position showed up on her computer screen.
"When I saw it become available, I knew it sounded like a good match," she said. "I have always liked this area of the county and knew that a lot of good could be done here."
It was a major step in Skerker’s education career with the county, which started in a position as an instructional assistant in 1981.
"I always say that I first started working in the county as a parent," she said, referring to her two children, who she watched move through the FCPS system over the years. "After I started as an instructional assistant, I just kept moving along that continuum."
Kings Park Elementary librarian Tish Oliver, who helped interview Skerker, said that the same qualities that led to her being hired have been displayed in her early work with the school.
"She’s everything that she promised in the interview and more," Oliver said. "She has a great open-door policy with any member of the faculty and she’s been right there all along the way to meet with the teachers to see what their feelings are."
KEY COMPONENTS in the years to come include meeting academic goals set by federal No Child Left Behind standards, working to develop the "whole child" through lesson plans and administration, and finding ways to lessen the school’s impact on the environment, Skerker said.
A new method of student assessment of writing and reading skills through presentation of class work in portfolio is one method of achieving federal education standards, particularly for the non-native English-speaking [ESOL] and special education students that make up about 20 percent of the student population, according to Skerker. This type of assessment could help get the school back on track to meet adequate yearly progress standards, which it failed to do last year, she added.
Another way of realizing the school’s overall goal of developing students’ character is by implementing the "responsive classroom" approach to teaching, Skerker said. The teaching strategy focuses on emphasizing social, emotional and academic growth as part of daily class.
"It’s a way to really look at the whole child and the environment of the classroom," she said. "We want to be able to really focus our school and classroom environment towards the achievement and development of the whole student."
Good citizenship and character will also be encouraged through a devotion to green conservation efforts in the school. School-wide recycling, limiting paper communication and attention to energy use will all be carried out during the course of the next year, Skerker said.
"We’re going back to that focus on education for the whole child, and it’s not enough just to teach them with academics, we must teach them about good global citizenship as well," she said. "Character education is about helping children to learn the tools to be more productive in their studies, in this economy and really this whole world."
"That’s the ultimate goal of this learning journey, and I’m excited to lead a dynamic staff as we take students down that path together."