School pride, hard work and the belief that all children can learn are key messages at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School. Each morning, Principal Kristin Shields welcomes her students and staff with a positive, upbeat morning announcement or is at the main school doors greeting those who enter with the school motto of “beavers are ready, responsible and respectful.” Her passion for children is evident in all that she does, from helping with lunch duty or consoling an upset child to exploring creative and exciting ways for children to learn.
Shields’ strong commitment to children and her ability to lead by example have earned her this year’s title of Charles County Public Schools Principal of the Year and the Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership award. According to Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy staff, Shields provides her staff with the tools and ideas to encourage students to do their best. She maintains an open-door policy and consistently acknowledges staff for their hard work. Shields said she is humbled with the recognition and credits the award to the partnership between parents, the school and community.
“I am honored to receive this award; it is not the effort of one individual. This award is a reflection of the partnership between the home, school and community. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary is an outstanding school and I am so happy that this award recognizes our phenomenal students, staff, parents and community,” Shields added.
As principal of Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy for the past three school years, and a former vice principal at the school for five years, Shields is familiar with the needs of her students and fosters a strong, collaborative relationship with the Nanjemoy community. Parent Teri Walker said Shields regularly expresses the importance of the school to home partnership, and credits her with helping students reach personal and academic goals. “Her commitment to students is over the top and she never fails to go above and beyond her call of duty. Her passion for the kids is amazing and I am convinced that because of her they are reaching their full potential and will forever be changed,” Walker wrote in a nomination letter.
Building strong relationships with students, staff and parents was important to Shields from the start of her career in education. She credits her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Echard, for instilling her with a love of learning and for inspiring Shields to focus on relationship building. “She was way ahead of her time in implementing teaching strategies and building relationships with students. She was my inspiration for the type of teacher I wanted to be,” Shields said.
Initiatives in place at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy to foster open communication include a monthly parent newsletter and workshops, weekly bulletins for staff, volunteer nights for the community, an early childhood program called Breakfast with Books and several other special events for students and staff. The most notable event is an annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted at and by the school in which senior citizen residents are invited to enjoy a feast and performances by Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy students.
Shields’ efforts to connect with the community extend outside of the school building. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy is one of 21 elementary schools in Charles County, but has the smallest population of students with enrollment levels totaling nearly 360 students. The Nanjemoy area is one of the more rural areas in Charles County, and organizations in the community strive to work together for support. Meg Romero is the coordinator of the Nanjemoy Community Center and said Shields often brings community figures together to discuss areas of concern and strategies to address them. She also encourages teacher involvement in community events so they can experience life in the Nanjemoy community.
In addition to her roles as principal, community leader and role model, Shields is also known as a cheerleader for staff. She knows her staff well and recognizes them for their talents, which are then used to help build new ideas for achieving gains within the school. She meets with teachers weekly to plan for instruction and provides regular professional development opportunities. She also implemented the Kidtalk program in which she and other members of the instructional leadership team meet with teachers to provide immediate support to struggling students.
Holly Walsh, a first-grade teacher at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy, said Shields also encourages staff with e-mails and announcements, and hosts upbeat staff meetings. “She is always accessible, and is not one who likes to keep her door closed. When there are problems, she is the first to come up with a solution. She is a great leader in our school and has made many positive changes in the community,” Walsh wrote in a nomination letter.
Shields is a first generation college student in her family and credits her growth as an educator to the work ethic she learned from her parents, who often worked long hours to send she and her siblings to college. She also credits her growth to the support of those she has worked with during her 23-year career. “I am proud to work in Charles County Public Schools and have been fortunate to work in three schools with so many dedicated and talented professionals. I have grown as a leader because of the tremendous support from central office staff, my faculty and the school community,” Shields said.
The Washington Post each year honors outstanding principals throughout the metropolitan area through its educational foundation. A committee reviews nominations throughout the school system and one principal is chosen to represent Charles County in the program as its Principal of the Year. The Washington Post Education Foundation on May 6 will honor Shields during a ceremony and reception for the recipients of the Distinguished Educational Leadership Awards. She will be recognized by the Board of Education during their May 13 meeting.
Shields began her career with CCPS in 2000 as a vice principal at J.C. Parks Elementary School. She has also served as a principal at Parks and William A. Diggs Elementary School, as well as at Latrobe Elementary School in Pa. Prior to joining CCPS, Shields also held teaching and specialist positions with Prince George’s County Public Schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Bowie State University.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX Coordinator and Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela Murphy, Section 504 Coordinator (employees/adults), at Charles County Public Schools, central office building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, Maryland 20646. 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.
Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School Principal Kristin Shields is the 2014 Charles County Public Schools Principal of the Year, and is this year’s recipient of the Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.