Patapsco principal named the best Dedicated Gibson puts in long hours at middle school

November 03, 1996|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It's 7: 45 a.m., and Stephen Gibson is helping children off buses in the parking lot of Ellicott City's Patapsco Middle School. Ten hours later, the hallways are empty. The children have piled back on their buses, the teachers have gathered their papers, and the secretaries have turned out the lights. The only person left, as usual, is Gibson, the principal.

He is writing notes for next week's school board meeting, compiling student data, preparing to be a guest teacher or writing a request for donations from a local company. Whatever the project, the 40-year-old educator is always at his school long after everyone else has gone home.

That's the sort of dedication that led the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals to name him Principal of the Year this year, which puts him in the running for the national award that will be announced in February.

And it's the sort of dedication to education that seems to run in the Gibson family. Six members have spent a combined 91 years working in Howard schools.

It began in 1948, when Gibson's father, Nathaniel Gibson, started teaching natural sciences at Harriet Tubman High School, then a segregated school for black students in Howard County.

In 1965, after the Howard schools desegregated, Nathaniel Gibson became Howard's first black principal, at Waterloo Middle School. He later worked on personnel matters in the school system's central offices before retiring in 1983. He died in 1994.

Nathaniel Gibson's sister, brother and sister-in-law also have taught in the county system. And Stephen's 45-year-old brother, an Army veteran also named Nathaniel, is a special education teacher at Mayfield Woods Middle School.

Stephen Gibson's career choice was never in doubt.

"Everyone wanted me to be an engineer. But when I had to make a decision, I knew I wanted to teach. I have never regretted that a day in my life," he says.

After college, Gibson startedteaching social studies at Glenwood Middle School. He then was assistant principal at Harpers Choice Middle School and at Centennial High School before assuming the top job at Patapsco Middle.

Sue Ann Tabler, MASSP executive director, has worked with Gibson and his father. She says she sees echoes of the father in the son.

"They are gentle people, fine leaders," she says. "Steve demands a lot from his students, from the teachers and the parents, just like his father."

Gibson credits most of his success to the strong values his parents passed on to him and to their commitment to education.

A tall, thin man, he has a deep voice that seems capable of instilling discipline. He is also capable of a touch of humor: One day recently, his well-pressed suit was complemented by a Snoopy tie.

Typical day

A typical day finds Gibson filling in for a teacher in the morning, policing students as a cafeteria aide at lunch, writing teacher evaluations in the afternoon and mediating a teacher-parent dispute in the evening.

"I've never seen anybody like him," says his brother, Nathaniel. "He has so much energy. There are some people who go the extra mile, but he goes beyond that."

Nathaniel Gibson's evaluation of his brother is echoed in letters from Patapsco Middle's staff, its PTA, a Howard school board member and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey that helped Stephen Gibson win the MASSP award in the summer.

Gibson says he is humbled by the award.

"I thought of all the great work other educators are doing in this state," he says. "I think this award speaks for all of that."

Gibson is not humble, however, when describing Howard's schools. "We are top rate," he says. "The community has made a commitment to give the schools the resources we need. They get involved, volunteer. With this kind of support, we can lure the best teachers.

Gibson, who attended Baltimore schools and lives in Randallstown, seems to tense a bit when discussing the state of public education in inner cities.

"I think there are still wonderful things going on in public schools," he says. "They are still preparing our kids well. It's just .. that people have a tendency to take a narrow view. They focus on the worst problem. I still hear a lot of success stories."

In running his school, Gibson says, he is "data-driven" -- often using students' test scores and other records to try to determine how best to teach them.

"Schools are constantly testing kids and moving them up," he says. "But we have to take a minute to look at the students' data. I see it as my job to train teachers how to use these numbers."

Educators who work with Gibson marvel at how he has brought more technology to his 513-student middle school.

When Gibson became principal six years ago, it had two computers. Now it has 120.

Donated computers

Many of the computers were distributed by the school system, but some were donated by outside groups, and Gibson takes particular pride in those donations.

He says he has a strong moral code that prevents him from asking for anything, but that he makes an exception when it comes to computers.

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