Md.'s principal of the year a favorite

August 28, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

A good principal shouldn't be too easy to reach on the first try, reasons Robert Bastress' boss.

Peter B. McDowell, Carroll County school system director of secondary education, often calls Liberty High School to consult with Dr. Bastress, the principal, about one thing or another.

The secretary usually says, "He's out in the building."

"And I say, 'Good. That's where he ought to be,' " Mr. McDowell said.

Dr. Bastress' peers also think he's a good principal -- and in fact, he is: He has been chosen Principal of the Year for the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals.

In October, Dr. Bastress will join colleagues from the other 49 states for a conference and possibly a reception in the White House rose garden. In February, the National Association of Secondary School Principals will choose a Principal of the Year from the 50 state winners.

Sue Ann Tabler of Sykesville, executive director of the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, has known Dr. Bastress since early in their careers, when they taught together in Howard County.

"I realized how really deeply committed he is to educating young people," after a weeklong seminar they attended a few years ago in Solomons, she said.

They drove back to Sykesville together.

"It was really an intensive week, and I was tired. I was really tired. But he talked the entire time about things he was going to be doing, figuring out how [concepts discussed in the training] were going to work in his school," Ms. Tabler said. "I thought, if he didn't shut up soon, I was going to kill him."

Liberty High School has had no other principal than Dr. Bastress. He was hired 15 years ago to be its first principal, recruit staff and get the programs in order so the school could open a year later. He's still there. He's seen three of his own children graduate from the school and has two more sons who will attend.

"He really is interwoven in the fiber of that school," Mr. McDowell said. "He's just done an exceptional job. The school is really strong academically. The kids are always among the leaders in SATs and functional tests. They get a high ratio of kids who go on to college.

"In the county, he's the dean of the high school principals in that he has the longest tenure of the five high school principals," Mr. McDowell said.

Parents, students and colleagues say they see no sign of burnout. Rather, they see a principal who is deeply invested in Liberty. And Dr. Bastress said he likes it that way.

"I really enjoy it," Dr. Bastress said. "You really get to know the community and establish a good working relationship with parents."

He lives nearby in Sykesville with his children and wife, Diane Bastress, a real estate agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in Eldersburg. The Bastresses celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary Friday.

"I couldn't have done what I've been able to do without her support," Dr. Bastress said.

He also praised Liberty's staff and parents.

"We have four booster groups of parents," he said. "We have band boosters, athletic boosters, the Parent-Teacher-Student Association and drama boosters."

Dr. Bastress, 49, began his career as a chemistry teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School, a Catholic college-preparatory boys' school in Southwest Baltimore, near the Edmondson Village neighborhood where he grew up.

He hadn't planned on a career in education. He graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry from Loyola College, planning to go to medical school.

"But once I got into teaching, I knew I wanted to be a principal," he said. "I could sense it. It was an excitement about being able to create a positive environment for the kids."

After three years at Mount St. Joseph, he had earned a master's degree in educational administration from Loyola and got a teaching job at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County with an eye to getting into administration.

He knew the principal, Jim McCrumb, who came to be a mentor. After four years of teaching, Dr. Bastress became an assistant administrator there for three years. He later was vice principal at Glenelg and Centennial high schools in Howard County, until he was hired in 1979 to open Liberty High School.

In 1980, he earned his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Maryland.

Dr. Bastress said he is most proud that Liberty is the kind of school where students, parents and staff are all involved. .

"He's really interested in the students' opinions," said Kim DeBoy, a senior and member of the student advisory committee he began.

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