LA PLATA, Md. (April 8, 2009)—J. P. Ryon Elementary School Principal Virginia McGraw is a believer. She believes all children can succeed. She believes teachers can make a difference in students' lives. She believes students want to learn something new every day. Most of all, she believes in children.
It is that strong commitment to children, and her belief that she makes a difference every day, that earned McGraw this year's title of Charles County Public Schools Principal of the Year. She is the recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leader award, and a principal her staff calls a strong advocate for students, families and the community.
While McGraw cites belief in children as her career cornerstone, her students and parents say it is the principal's ever-present smile that warms their hearts. "I think my principal, Ms. McGraw, should be the principal of the year because she wakes up every morning with a good attitude and a nice smile," fourth grader Shaina Cole wrote in a letter of support.
Student Mishaun Johnson agrees. He says each morning and afternoon, as students arrive and depart, McGraw welcomes each one with a smile. "Mrs. McGraw really cares about each kid," Johnson wrote.
McGraw uses her beliefs to inspire students and staff. Since transferring to J.P. Ryon in 2002 as principal, the school atmosphere and performance has improved and students have reached new heights in academic achievement, personal responsibility and community involvement.
"My mantra is to believe. Teachers and parents need to believe in their children and if they do, children will succeed. It is nice to see staff have faith in our children. The awards we receive, it is all a result of the staff's hard work. I am proud of the way we all work together as a team and I am proud of the relationships we have with our community," McGraw said.
Described in her nomination as an ardent supporter of the PTA, parents describe McGraw as an excellent communicator who always puts the best interests of their children first. "As parents it makes us feel proud that we leave our children with someone who loves and cares for them as if they were their own," Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Goldring wrote in a letter.
Kristina Gozzi, a parent and volunteer wrote, "Mrs. McGraw runs her school with her heart, not a time clock. She is for her students and open with parents."
"She is respected by her staff, appreciated by the parents and adored by the students," PTA President Vera Phillips-Ward wrote.
Staff members said McGraw demonstrates and encourages creativity and innovation and manages effectively by building a strong team. McGraw has teachers keep and maintain professional portfolios, encourages internal growth and promotes teamwork within grade levels and with the Instructional Leadership Team. She does all this with a personal touch and while looking out for what is best for children.
"Mrs. McGraw also goes out of her way to look out for the most important people in the school, the children. No matter what we are doing as a school or as teachers, Ginny always asks us how what we are planning will affect the students," Doug Cunningham, a fifth-grade teacher, wrote.
McGraw is a Waldorf resident and 40-year veteran educator who began her career as an elementary and special education teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. She taught for 20 years before coming to Charles County in 1989, as a special education teacher at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School where she later served as a community liaison and vice principal. In 1995 she moved to William B. Wade Elementary School as a vice principal and was promoted in 1997 to principal of Gale-Bailey Elementary School where she remained until she transferred to Ryon. McGraw earned her bachelor of science in elementary education from Rhode Island College, her master's in special education from the University of Maryland and she completed postgraduate study at Trinity College, the University of Maryland and Goucher College.
"I am proud to be working in Charles County. It has made a difference in my career. I have received strong support. Every step of the way, there has been someone here to support me. I never thought I would be recognized this way and to be recognized by your community, staff and students is amazing," McGraw said.
The Washington Post each year honors outstanding principals throughout the metropolitan area through its educational foundation. A committee reviews nominations throughout the school system and one principal is chosen to represent Charles County in the program as its Principal of the Year. The Washington Post Education Foundation on April 29 will honor McGraw during a ceremony and reception for the recipients of the Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards.