School's new chief never left in spirit

Praised: Oakland Mills principal has a reputation for bringing people together.

August 15, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Even after his three-year tenure as assistant principal at Oakland Mills High School ended in 1999, Frank Eastham never really left.

After all, Eastham lives a few blocks from the Columbia school. And he continued to wear clothes displaying Oakland Mills pride.

"You could leave Oakland Mills [High School] but you can't take Oakland Mills out of someone," said Eastham, who calls the school his home. "I would frequently catch flak from some of my other administrators because I continued to wear Oakland Mills spirit wear when I was out and about in the community."

Tomorrow, Eastham returns to Oakland Mills as its new principal, taking over for Marshall Peterson at a school trying to move forward after it was rocked by a grade-changing scandal that has lasted nine months. Peterson, who requested the move, will replace Eastham as principal at the Homewood School, an alternative learning center in Ellicott City.

It has been a tumultuous year for Oakland Mills High School, whose image was battered after the school system announced in November that a football player's grades were improperly changed to make him eligible to play.

The football team forfeited its seven regular-season victories and a state playoff berth, and former football coach and athletic director Ken Hovet was removed from his duties when he was implicated in the scandal.

This month, the Howard County Board of Education reversed former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's recommendation that Hovet be fired. The school board restored Hovet's teaching job and back pay.

When school begins Aug. 30, Hovet will teach social studies at River Hill High School.

It also will be a new beginning for Oakland Mills. After a year that drew much attention to adults, Eastham said it is time for the school and community to learn from the past and move forward.

"It's time for us to refocus the vision onto the excellent staff, students and parents who are in the Oakland Mills community," he said. "Oakland Mills High School is known for a tradition of excellence."

Eastham, 40, said he will start by building relationships with students, faculty, parents and others in the Oakland Mills community. Then he will seek their help in defining the future mission of Oakland Mills.

"It's the heart of everything I do," he said. "My life mission is to build relationships with people, which give me permission to maximize their potential."

Colleagues say Eastham has a knack for bringing people together.

Craig Cummings, the school system's coordinator of alternative education programs, recalled how Eastham organized a parent-teacher organization at Homewood despite its transient student population.

"Frank is incredible at being able to bring diverse groups together toward a common cause," Cummings said. "Frank is an incredibly inclusive person who really knows how to communicate with different kinds of people."

Married and the father of three, Eastham began his career in Howard County 19 years ago as a special education teacher at Hammond High School, soon after graduating from West Virginia University in 1985.

In 1990, he moved on to a program for students with emotional disabilities at the former Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City, eventually becoming the program coordinator.

During that time, Eastham was taking curriculum and instruction classes at what is now McDaniel College in Westminster, earning a master's degree in education in 1994. He also earned a certificate in administration and supervision.

In 1996, Eastham was promoted to assistant principal at Oakland Mills High School. He stayed there for three years before becoming principal at the former Gateway School, which evolved into the Homewood School.

Eastham opened Homewood as its principal in 2002. There, he crafted three core values -- relationships, resilience and responsibility -- that he said he will carry to Oakland Mills.

"He's a very focused, humanistic, child-centered leader who values and develops his staff and does so in a [manner] that's focused on the needs of the students," said Daniel Michaels, one of the school system's directors of pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade classes who has been Eastham's mentor. "His ability to attract and retain committed teachers is based upon the strong relationships he builds with all members of the faculty and staff."

In announcing the reassignments last week, Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin noted Eastham's connections to the Oakland Mills community.

"He knows the proud tradition Oakland Mills has had," he said. "We believe he's a person who can help bring the school and community together."

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