Coming back to high school

Promotion: Atholton's new principal returns to lead her alma mater.

July 06, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

In the late 1980s, Marcy Leonard was a student leader and soccer player at Atholton High School.

Today, she is back at the Columbia school - as its principal.

"It's incredible," Leonard said last week from her new office. "How many times do you get a chance to do it?

"I got a phenomenal education here. I got an opportunity to grow not only as a student but as a person. To have an opportunity to come back here and help create those opportunities for this generation of students is amazing."

Leonard, 34, was promoted after 11 years at Wilde Lake High School, including three years as assistant principal. She takes over for Connie Lewis, a much-beloved administrator who is retiring after 30 years in the Howard County school system - seven years as Atholton's principal.

To her colleagues and mentors, it comes as no surprise that Leonard has risen through the school system's ranks so quickly.

"She'll be superintendent soon," said Roger Plunkett, a former principal at Wilde Lake who appointed Leonard as a ninth-grade instructional leader during his tenure from 1996 to 2000. "She'll be my boss."

Howard County administrators say Leonard has a knack for spotting leadership skills in others and encouraging their development.

Leonard got an early lesson on being a leader, when, as an Atholton senior in 1988, she became the first student member of the Howard County Board of Education.

"One of Marcy's mantras is that everyone is a leader," said John Quinn, the school system's coordinator of secondary science, who was Wilde Lake's principal when Leonard was appointed assistant principal in 2002.

Leonard believes "an organization is most successful if you could tap the leadership talent of people around you," Quinn said.

Plunkett recalled how Leonard was able to garner teacher support for academic initiatives and a controversial plan for the county's high schools to convert to a uniform class schedule.

"She knows how to create a vision and inspire people to rally around that vision," said Plunkett, now the school system's business, community and government relations officer.

Teaching is in Leonard's blood - both her parents were teachers. Though she also had an interest in pursuing law, Leonard chose a career in education.

"You have infinite power as an educator to make an impact on people's lives," said Leonard, who always wanted to return to Howard County to teach.

After getting an undergraduate degree in history from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and a master's in social studies education from North Carolina's Wake Forest University in 1994, Leonard got a job at Wilde Lake.

There, she held numerous positions, including ninth-grade instructional team leader, social studies department chair, adviser for the Student Government Association and coach of the girls' soccer team.

Though it was difficult to leave the classroom, Leonard said she wanted an opportunity to lead and "touch the whole community" instead of just one particular class or group of students.

In the past three years as assistant principal, Leonard created the school's master class schedule, coordinated professional staff development sessions and worked with ninth-grade students to help smooth their transition into high school.

"She'll be sorely missed," said Restia Whitaker, Wilde Lake's principal. "The staff is tremendously excited for her appointment because we know she'll do an excellent job, but it's sad to see your colleague and great friend leave."

As Atholton's new leader, Leonard said she will keep in mind something that she heard in college: "They won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

"That ethic of caring and instructional excellence, it's here in Atholton," she said. "I'm here to support and continue to encourage it."

During the summer, Leonard plans to meet with teachers and staff, student leaders, parents and community groups. And she will be working to implement a staff leadership team in the fall that would draw instructional leaders as well as other interested teachers - an initiative that the administration started in Wilde Lake last year.

The group would be in charge of creating professional development plans and mentoring new teachers.

"To me, leadership isn't something that's finite," she said. "Everyone has leadership skills and potential. Part of my role is to provide opportunities for staff and students to exert leadership."

Marcy Leonard

Personal: Age: 34

Experience: Social studies teacher, Wilde Lake High School, 1994-2002; assistant principal, Wilde Lake, 2002-2005; principal, Atholton High School, 2005

Education: bachelor's degree in history from Haverford College; master's degree in social studies education from Wake Forest University; working on doctoral dissertation on education leadership from University of Maryland, College Park

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