Principal's big award wows her students

October 09, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The students at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary have always thought their principal, Pat Skebeck, was important. Now they are absolutely certain. They saw her on TV last week.

"I'm right up there with Power Rangers," the Aberdeen principal laughed.

But Mrs. Skebeck, too, is awed by her recent fame.

Last Monday, she was named one of five educators in the state to win an annual Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

It's an honor that will fatten her bank account by $25,000, with no strings attached.

"This monetary thing, we're not accustomed to it in education," she said. "You hope you will be told you did a good job. That's all we expect."

Mrs. Skebeck joins a select group of 150 teachers and principals throughout the country who were picked as outstanding educators. She will be feted at a state banquet Oct. 28.

The prize also includes an all-expenses-paid trip for her and a companion to California for an education symposium in May.

"This is the Oscars for educators," said Joan Maynard, a member of the state Board of Education who participated in the selection process.

"It was a tough, tough job. You're looking at the creme de la creme here," Ms. Maynard said at the surprise ceremony Monday at the State House in Annapolis.

Mrs. Skebeck and other winners were lured to the Governor's Reception Room under various pretexts. The Harford educator thought she had been chosen to participate in an early-childhood-education forum.

"I wondered why they knew so much about me," Mrs. Skebeck said in her flower- and balloon-filled school office Wednesday. "I must be the most naive person in the world."

"We pulled the wool over their eyes," said Darla Strouse, director of recognition programs for the state Department of Education, who coordinated the Maryland effort with the Milken Foundation.

This is the second year that Maryland has participated in the Milken awards, which began in 1987 in California. The program alternates annually between elementary and secondary educators.

This year's selection process began at the local level. A panel of elementary school educators narrowed their search to Mrs. Skebeck and submitted her name for approval to Harford School Superintendent Ray R. Keech. He sent her name to the state Education Department.

Paul E. Bowman Jr. a Harford supervisor of elementary schools who participated in the selection process, summed up the choice of Mrs. Skebeck: "In her case, it's always the child first. And always whatever it takes to make instruction fit the kid, not the other way around."

Dr. Keech, who attended the Annapolis ceremony, acknowledged that "so many could have been nominated. But Pat stands out as a person, from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. She cares so much for all the kids."

Mrs. Skebeck modestly downplayed the selection. "There are 31 elementary principals. Anyone could have stood there. I just happened to be the lucky one," she said.

The 51-year-old Kingsville resident has been involved in education for 17 years. She started as an elementary teacher in Baltimore County. Then she took a hiatus after her daughter -- the first of three -- was born.

When her youngest child entered first grade, she returned to the teaching ranks, this time in Harford County. She has been principal at Hall's Cross Roads for five years.

It is one of the poorest schools in the county, with 56 percent of the students receiving free or reduced lunches. It alarms Mrs. Skebeck that the number has jumped from 49 percent when she started working there.

"Our parents are looking for work," she said. "The bay area is struggling."

The principal, who spends about 12 hours a day at the school on weekdays, will do whatever it takes to encourage her students.

Last year, she dressed up as a ladybug to promote the school's B.U.G. program. The acronym stands for "Bringing Up Grades" and "Being Utterly Great."

She also donned a Barney costume for a book fair. This year, the school's teachers have already approached her with another idea.

"They suggested sky-diving. I had to say, 'I don't think so,' " she said, cheerfully adding, "Within reason, I would try it."

Mrs. Skebeck also finds time for community activities. She is active in the local Jaycees and is president of the board of directors for the Miss Maryland pageant.

She credits her involvement to her late husband, Archie Skebeck, who died Oct. 19, 1993.

"He felt we were so lucky, that our lives were full. We wanted to give something back to the community," she said, tears misting her eyes at the mention of her husband of 29 years.

Mrs. Skebeck also wants to set the record straight about the Miss Maryland pageant. "Beauty is not what I'm interested in. . . . I became involved at a time when not many scholarships were available to young women," she said.

Her own honor, the Milken award, comes at a good time in her life. Mrs. Skebeck watched her youngest daughter graduate from Salisbury State University last spring and is expecting her first grandchild in January.

Two of her children are teachers. One is an operating room nurse.

Her $25,000 winnings will go toward paying for graduate school for two of her daughters, she said.

Mrs. Skebeck also has other plans for the money. "It's like winning the lottery," she said.

The principal would like to use a portion of it to give a scholarship to a student who wants to enter education, and she plans to donate some money to her school.

She also plans to take a trip to Europe next summer. Of course, there's an education element to it; Mrs. Skebeck wants to visit an educator in Italy "who has some interesting concepts on early childhood education."

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