Colleagues, pupils praise assistant principal who won award

April 14, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

When Joanne W. Ferguson was growing up in the small Pennsylvania town of Dunmore, she had no doubt of what she would do after high school.

"I don't even remember being given a choice. It wasn't, 'Are you going to go to college or not?' it was, 'What are you going to do when you finish college?' "

Infected with her parents' love of learning, Mrs. Ferguson followed her father, a truck driver who became a teacher when she was in junior high school, into education.

Last week Mrs. Ferguson, assistant principal at Pointer's Run Elementary School, was named Educator of the Year by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

"I was really thrilled. I was very surprised," said Mrs. Ferguson of hearing at the Thursday awards ceremony that she had won the prize over seven others named as outstanding educators.

"There are so many good people in Howard County schools, so many teachers and administrators," she said.

"I just think Joanne's the best," said her boss, Principal Andrew T. Barshinger. "She's a people person, she just cares about kids."

As evidence of that, students at Pointers' Run submitted their testimonials about Mrs. Ferguson to the chamber.

"She makes you not care about missing recess to work on something with her. It's fun," wrote fourth-grader Ben Stoneman.

Fifth-grader Scott Nathan echoed the comments of several students on the administrator's handling of trouble between students, their teachers and their peers.

"She's fair to everyone. She listens to your side of the story," Scott wrote.

She also cares about the adults she works with, Mr. Barshinger said. When a kindergarten teaching assistant was injured in an automobile accident, "Joanne went right to work organizing dinners from the staff," Mr. Barshinger wrote in his nominating letter to the chamber.

During that time, Mrs. Ferguson also helped teach kindergarten students, Mr. Barshinger said.

"When you lead by example, when you are willing to go in there and roll your sleeves up and get things done, people will follow," Mr. Barshinger said.

Although Mrs. Ferguson helps out in the classroom, she still has time for parents or students who need help.

"When my grandmother was about to die and was in the hospital, it was OK for me to go to [Mrs. Ferguson's] office and talk to her," wrote one fourth-grader.

Helen Mercer, a guidance counselor, has worked with Mrs. Ferguson since Pointer's Run opened in September 1991.

"She never rests, and she never complains. She just keeps going," Ms. Mercer said.

"There isn't a body in this school who hasn't been significantly impacted by her or touched by her in some way," she said.

Ms. Mercer said some people might be frustrated with the kind of repetitive disciplinary problems elementary administrators deal with.

"Rather than looking at it in a hopeless kind of way, she looks at it as a kind of opportunity," Ms. Mercer said.

Mrs. Ferguson, 43, who lives in Glenwood with her husband, Thomas, and children Kelly, 15, and Whitney, 11, began teaching fifth grade in Stroudsburg, Pa., after graduating from East Stroudsburg College.

She began teaching in Howard County in 1974, after her husband took a job as assistant director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington.

Mrs. Ferguson taught grades three through five at Clarksville Elementary for 13 years and was a gifted and talented resource teacher for three years.

In 1990, she began a year as leader of fourth-grade teachers, and in 1991 she took her current job at Pointer's Run.

Her willingness to "roll up her sleeves" may come in part from her love of teaching.

"The first year [as assistant principal], I missed it terribly, but the teachers let me come in and teach," Mrs. Ferguson said.

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