Roses for the principal

Lenore Chapman retires after 29 years at the Chatsworth School, including 14 at the helm

June 11, 2008|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

One after another, the students and staff gathered at Chatsworth School in Reisterstown made their way to the front of the cafeteria to praise and thank their retiring principal, Lenore Chapman.

For being a good listener, a compassionate educator and an understanding friend for more than three decades, Chapman was feted with long-stem red roses, a silver and diamond-accented bracelet and a scrapbook of school memories.

"My instincts and morals were developed in the sandbox of Chatsworth," said Brian Peisach, a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park, who had Chapman as principal when he started kindergarten in 1994. "They guide my actions, influence my beliefs and acted as building blocks to my academic success. Mrs. Chapman's influence on students cannot be measured."

Fifth-grader Sophia Rosman, 11, who has attended the school since kindergarten, said she will remember Chapman for all the times she encouraged her to do her best. "She has taught us about being responsible," Sophia said. "She's always helping us and encouraging us."

The celebration at Chatsworth was among those taking place across the region as the school year comes to a close and retiring veteran teachers and principals say their goodbyes to students and colleagues.

In Baltimore County alone, where classes end today, hundreds of teachers and principals are expected to leave the system through retirement or resignation, officials say.

The last day of school in Baltimore City is Friday.

Lasting impressions

Last week's festivities in Chatsworth's cafeteria - which Peisach said seemed a lot smaller now than it did when he started kindergarten there - honored Chapman, who retires at the end of the month, for having left lasting impressions on hundreds of children and scores of teachers and staff members.

"When I first started here, I was a new teacher at a new school," said Kerri Farrell, 40, who teaches second and third grade and has been at Chatsworth for 12 years. "She was a great mentor and always very positive."

Chapman, 56, said she has developed strong relationships with her teaching staff by being willing to trust them.

"I learn things about my teachers' strengths and then delegate to them," said Chapman, a Towson High School graduate. "I try not to make unilateral decisions. I can probably count on two hands the number of those kinds of decisions that I've made in 14 years" as principal.

Setting structure

She said she sets the structure, but allows teachers the latitude to influence the outcome. "I give teachers wiggle room," she said.

Chapman said she credits her first principal, Nancy S. Grasmick, now state schools superintendent, with helping her shape her priorities as an educator.

"She hired me fresh out of college," Chapman said. "She really molded me as a teacher. She set high expectations for the kids and for us. She wanted order and things to be done right."

In a recent interview, Grasmick said Chapman's success as a principal largely reflects her strengths as a teacher.

"She had an ability to balance structure with understanding," Grasmick said. "She was highly structured and very consistent. She was also extremely understanding, and children felt she really cared about them. But the kids knew the rules, and that provided them with a sense of security."

Grasmick said Chapman also had an excellent rapport with parents, especially those of special-education children, who are often at their wits' end by the time they reach the school system.

"I still see evidence of all the things I saw in her back then," Grasmick said.

Teaching teachers

Chapman, who plans to begin teaching aspiring educators at Towson University this fall, earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1973 from Chatham College in Pittsburgh, and a master's degree in special education the next year from Loyola College.

In 1974, she was hired to teach first grade at Chatsworth, which was open to only special-education children. In 1983, she became assistant principal at Wellwood International Elementary School in Pikesville. In 1989, she returned to Chatsworth as assistant principal.

She became principal of Chatsworth in 1994, when the school converted to a magnet program with a special-education component. The magnet program's students make up about 80 percent of the school's enrollment of about 420 children in kindergarten through fifth grade, Chapman estimated.

Sitting in her school office after last week's farewell in the cafeteria, Chapman donned a necklace strung with plastic red hearts that a student had insisted she wear for the celebration.

As she prepares to start teaching at the college level, Chapman said, she will miss the elementary school children but she figured it was time for a change - and a good idea to move on while Chatsworth is thriving.

"I've been at this school longer than anywhere else in my life, except my church," she said. "It's going to be hard to not introduce myself as principal of Chatsworth."

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