Kristin Shields, right, principal of Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School, was named the 2016 National Distinguished Principal for Maryland. She is pictured with her daughter Haley, 13, and while Shields' mother Peggy Kelly, couldn't come to the ceremony, the family made sure her face was in the crowd.
CITY, Md. (April 4, 2016)—Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School is a community school, one that hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens; sends needy students home with backpacks full of food on weekends and long breaks; one with a principal likely to show up on doorsteps over the summer dressed as a pirate, handing out treasure chests to her students.
"Someone who loves you more than you know and wants you to be successful," Steve Hagenbuch, executive director of Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals, said during a March 31 assembly at the school where Principal Kristin Shields was named the National Distinguished Principal for Maryland, an honor given annually to 50 elementary and middle school principals—one per state—in the country.
Nominations for the National Distinguished Principal (NDP) award come in by the hundreds, Hagenbuch said. "But Maryland can only pick one."
Shields, who started her teaching career in Prince George's County and was a math specialist, credits her fourth-grade teacher with inspiring her to become an educator. "She changed my life," Shields said. "She was ahead of her time. She used cooperative learning and fun games that made learning so much fun."
Shields was the vice principal of J.C. Parks Elementary School before spending five years as vice principal at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy. She lives in the community with her husband Rick and their daughter Haley, 13, who said her mother loves her students and the school.
"They are her life, this is all she thinks about," Haley said. "She's always here and supports the kids. She's the person you go to if you have a problem. She's very patient and caring."
Fourth-grade teacher Barbara Anderson wrote the nomination letter to get the ball rolling for Shield's NDP award. "She's probably the most dedicated principal I've had in my 20 years of teaching," Anderson said, adding Shields not only is devoted to students, but the community as well.
"You make it easy for me to be a principal," Shields told her students and staff at the assembly, a surprise that she almost canceled because it would disrupt reading time. "You got me good," she said.
"This is a community school," Shields said. "The staff, students, parents and volunteers … we have such a family feel here. The teachers do anything they need to do make the kids successful. [Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy] is the best kept secret."
The NDP awards are given through the National Association of Elementary School Principals and honor outstanding administrators who "set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character and climate for students, families and staffs in their learning community," according to information provided by the NAESP. The program was established in 1984. Along with the honor of being Maryland's NDP representative, Shields was given $5,000 by Mentoring Minds, an elementary education publishing company.
Kimberlyn Pratesi, president of the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals, said the material submitted nominating Shields highlighted her commitment to building a community around the school. "She's very passionate and is making a great impact on children," Pratesi said.
Erica Watson, vice principal at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy for two years, said she and Shields work well together. "I have learned a lot from her," Watson said. "She's an outstanding leader."