Laurel Woods Elementary School's new principal comes to Howard County from one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Minneapolis, which meansPatricia M. "Tricia" Tidgewell has had a small-scale preview of the rapid growth here.
This school year, Eden Prairie, Minn. will haveabout 7,000 students in eight schools; Howard County will have approximately 31,000 in 52 schools.
"It's a very humbling experience" coming to a new school system from out of state, Tidgewell says. "At Eden Prairie, I was one of the people who had been there (for years), who gave advice. Now I'm learning who to call for what."
She will head one of the most overcrowded elementary schools in the county. Laurel Woods is expected to openwith approximately 820 students in a school designed for 500. Five portable classrooms sprout along the sides of the building, one more than last year.
The conditions will continue until the opening nextyear of a new southeastern elementary school off Gorman Road brings relief to Laurel Woods.
The school's PTA sponsored a luncheon in July to introduce the new principal to the community.
"She's very receptive to meeting everyone, getting to know us all," said Laurel Woods PTA President Donna Thewes.
Thewes, in June, had pleaded unsuccessfully with Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to let former principal John Vermette stay at Laurel Woods one more year, until the new elementary school opens.
But Hickey went forward with the transfer, moving Vermette to Dasher Green Elementary,
Laurel Woods also lostassistant principal Robert Bruce, now principal of Charles Carroll Elementary School in Carroll County. Vermette and Bruce briefed Tidgewell during the summer on points ranging from the Maryland School Performance Program to staff assignments.
Tidgewell says she was impressed by the way Vermette used every inch of space in the building -- for example, sectioning off part of the media center to create a classroom for gifted students -- without compromising the educational program.
The new principal's approach to overcrowded conditions is to"think positive" -- "It offers you the opportunity to do some creative thinking."
The positive approach is Tidgewell's nature, says Diane Heim Vollmers, an elementary school principal in Eden Prairie whodescribes Tidgewell as her mentor.
"Tricia knows what she wants and how to move people," Vollmers says. "I don't know if I ever heard her say anything negative in the eight years I worked with her."
Her career choice wasn't a matter of always wanting to be a teacher, Tidgewell says. "When I went to college, the choices for women were limited. I knew I really liked working with children, and as a high school student, I was a leader."
So she became a teacher, and when opportunities for women expanded, she took them and then reached out topull others up the ladder.
"One of her wonderful strengths is that she worked with a lot of women in this district who probably were over-educated for the jobs they had," says Judith M. Schell, public information officer for the Eden Prairie school system.
Tidgewell says she has had offers to go into school system administration and to join private companies, and someday she might be interested.
"For now, this is where I'd like to be," she says. Tidgewell, 49, hadn't planned to leave Eden Prairie, but last spring her husband, Mark, was named vice president and chief operating officer of Green Spring Mental Health Services, a Columbia-based subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.
The family includes son Todd, who will be a freshman at Yale this fall, daughters Tara and Dana, who will be a senior and sophomore, respectively, at Wilde Lake High School, and son Chad, an incoming eighth-grader at Harper's Choice Middle School.
A native of Minnesota, Tidgewell earned her bachelor's degree in 1964from the University of Minnesota, then fled the cold and snow for a teaching job in California. Her husband, whom she met there, is a California native who wanted to see the Midwest.
In 1969, he found a job in Minnesota and they moved. Tricia Tidgewell taught primary grades in Minnetonka public schools, became an affirmative action officerfor the school system, worked in the Equal Employment Opportunity office of the state education department and then decided to go into school administration.
She became an elementary school principal in 1978 and received a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Minnesota in 1979.
In 1979, Tidgewell became principal of an Eden Prairie elementary school. The affluent Minneapolis suburb is near St. Louis Park, the district where Hickey was superintendent before coming to head the county school system in 1984. But Tidgewell didn't meet Hickey until coming here.