Chances are, visitors to St. Charles High School will not find Principal Richard Conley holed up in his office. He’s too busy walking around the school, interacting with students. “He’s a very hands-on principal,” said senior Keara Watkins, president of the school’s Student Government Association (SGA). “We always see him out in the halls. He’s concerned about students.”
Conley’s commitment to students was honored recently during the annual Maryland Association of Student Councils (MASC) convention in Ocean City where he was named the recipient of the Wayne Perry Principal of the Year award by the MASC. The award, named after a retired Harford County principal and MASC supporter, is given each year to a Maryland principal who supports and cultivates student activities and leaders.
“The biggest way we can do this is by listening to our students,” Conley said. “Through their organizations and clubs, our students have some great ideas and show us things that they are passionate about.”
Conley was nominated by the Charles County Association of Students Councils (CCASC), a group made up of SGA members from around the county. Conley’s nomination was in response to his support and guidance, and encouragement of student achievement, said Gary Winsett, a Thomas Stone High School teacher and CCASC advisor.
“Mr. Conley is at the forefront of efforts to have our students be positive role models in the community,” Winsett said. “Student leaders at St. Charles and at the CCASC level know that if they have an idea they want to try, Mr. Conley is always willing to listen and offer feedback to help make those ideas a reality.”
“We’ve worked very hard at St. Charles to create a climate and culture in which our students feel that their voices are valued,” Conley said. Watkins can attest to that. “He comes to SGA meetings and if students don’t agree with a decision by administrators, he’ll explain that decision to us,” she said. School is a big part of a student’s life, Conley said. “We ask them to take it seriously and to help us make our schools the best places possible for them to learn.” For that to happen, teachers and staff have to provide opportunities for students to dive into and lead. “Once they’re in, they’re hooked and their involvement — and the involvement of their friends — grows from there,” he said.
When St. Charles opened in 2013, the student body was made up of students coming from other high schools. The Class of 2018 is the first that have been there since freshman year. “Our students have been passionate since day one about making their school a place that they will be proud to graduate from,” Conley said. “Their passion has been infectious and students who have enrolled in following years have followed in their footsteps, giving us ideas on new programs, enhancements to existing ones and feedback on what they believe works well and what could be improved in our school.”
The MASC is a state group for secondary students that encourages leadership development, student advocacy and communication. According to MASC, principals are linked to a school’s success. The Wayne Perry Principal of the Year award recognizes middle and high school principals who enable and empower student leaders and student organizations while maintaining high standards for all students. Nominations are evaluated by a MASC selection committee that chooses the award recipient. Past Charles County recipients of the award include the late John Cox of Westlake High School; Don Cooke, former principal of La Plata High School; Thomas Stone High School’s former principal, Heath Morrison; William Wise, the former principal of Mattawoman Middle School; and Chrystal Benson, Westlake’s former principal.
“This honor caught me completely by surprise,” Conley said. “I had no idea that our student leaders and SGA sponsor nominated me for this award, and I am incredibly humbled to have received it. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with a great group of educators and students each day.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 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, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 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.