Principal a good fit for a big dream

'Right person for the job' is to open new charter school

March 29, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Ask Maurine E. Larkin what it was like when then-President George W. Bush visited her former school and heralded it as a success, and the newly hired principal at the Monarch Academy Public Charter School, squeals with delight.

"Oh my God, it was like an out-of-body experience," Larkin said, recalling her return for a day to North Glen Elementary in Glen Burnie. "I walked down the hallways with [first lady] Laura [Bush], and I don't remember one thing I said. It was very, very exciting."

Sitting in her office at the yet-to-open Monarch Academy in Glen Burnie, she said, "We want President [Barack] Obama to come, and Michelle Obama. Once we get Monarch Academy up and running, we're hoping they come."

No small goal for a principal who has been on the job all of six weeks, tasked with leading Anne Arundel County's third charter school, set to open this fall for kindergarten and grades one and five. But for Larkin, her ascension from a classroom teacher in Carroll County to charter school principal has been all about dreaming big, she said.

"I've said this for years that someday I'm going to open up my own school from the ground up and hire all the people who believe in the things that I believe in," Larkin said. "And I just believe it's my destiny to be here."

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and the leaders of the Children's Guild, the Baltimore-based nonprofit that will run Monarch Academy, are also hoping for grand success. Andrew L. Ross, president of the Children's Guild, which has for more than a decade run a program at Annapolis Middle School, said he foresees a good working relationship with Maxwell and the school board. The Children's Guild, which specializes in educating emotionally disturbed children, has schools in Baltimore and Prince George's counties.

"She's so enthusiastic and positive when it comes to knowledge," Ross said about Larkin. "We hold ourselves as an organization responsible, not the kid. And when I saw that she really believes in that concept, I could tell she was the right person for the job."

Larkin, who has worked for county schools for more than 20 years, said she is confident Monarch will not encounter the problems of its charter predecessor. She already has some of the school's ideals down.

While renovations go on around her, she is preparing to hire nine classroom teachers - three in each grade - and support staff, including teachers for various disciplines. She is also spending time recruiting students to attend the school.

Larkin was raised in Carroll County, near Westminster and Hampstead. Her grandmother taught school. Her mother was a home economics teacher. And for part of his career, her father was a teacher.

Larkin earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Towson University and received a master's in curriculum and instruction from Loyola College. She lives in Pasadena with her husband, Joseph, who is a retired county police officer and her daughter, Michelle, 16, a student at Northeast High School.

Her first job was as a fifth-grade teacher for two years in Carroll County. She has also taught at Point Pleasant Elementary and Solley Elementary in Glen Burnie. She then worked as an assistant principal at Park Elementary in Brooklyn Park before becoming principal at North Glen Elementary in Glen Burnie.

Catherine Herbert, the county schools' director of school performance for the North County and Severna Park region, has worked as Larkin's direct supervisor at North Glen and Odenton and praised Larkin's ability to create success at two vastly different schools - one with many students living in poverty and the other with a program for emotionally disturbed children.

"She has it all," Herbert said. "She certainly has the data piece. So she knows how to analyze the data and knows what needs to be done."

It was at North Glen that she successfully eliminated the achievement gap between African-American students and white students on state tests, which brought a visit from President and Mrs. Bush. By the time they visited, though, in January 2004, she had already begun a new job: principal of Odenton Elementary School, where she worked for 3 1/2 years before going to Monarch.

Tracey Ahem, Odenton's new principal, who was assistant principal under Larkin, praised Larkin for energizing teachers and students to strive for rigor.

"She's a fabulous person," Ahem said. "Her first priority is children and trying to come up with creative and innovative ways to help children be successful, and that's her No. 1 goal."

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