Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Schlappal transitions to Tuscarora High

Principal is new to school, but not to Frederick County

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David S. Spence/Special to The Gazette
Principal Kathleen Schlappal greets a student during an open house event at Tuscarora High School Thursday, Aug. 21. Schlappal has held various positions in the Frederick County Public Schools system in the last 15 years. Her most recent job was as Middletown High School's principal.

The saying "Bloom where you are planted" aptly sums up Kathleen Schlappal's attitude to her new job as Tuscarora High School principal.

Schlappal said the motto, which decorates her office at Tuscarora High, reminds her to do her best and make a contribution, no matter where she works.

Schlappal (pronounced like "Shlappelle") took the helm of Tuscarora High School in July from Jay Berno, who took Schlappal's place as principal at Middletown High School.

Frederick County Public Schools announced the personnel change before the end of the school year, thus allowing Schlappal and Berno time to acclimate to the inner workings of their new schools and meet their leadership teams.

Though she was comfortable at Middletown High, Schlappal said she doesn't shy away from a new opportunity and sees "viable potential" at Tuscarora High.

"I'm always open for an opportunity … for that personal growth and challenge," she said last week.

Schlappal said that her goal is to empower teachers to be innovative and to seek opportunities to enhance instruction and provide the best for students. In doing so, she is seeking input from and building relationships with teachers, students and parents and trying to make everyone feel valued.

"I don't have the grand plan," she said. "My role is just a facilitator for programs and practices that benefit students."

Schlappal said she wants to hear what students and staff members think about Tuscarora High's fledgling identity, culture and traditions and what they want for the school.

According to Jim Zimmer, a transition education coordinator at Middletown High, listening is Schlappal's greatest strength.

Zimmer has worked with nine principals in his 30-year career at Middletown High, and described his former boss as a solid leader who doesn't micromanage and can be counted upon.

"She didn't come in here and tell us how she was going to run this building," he said. When Schlappal arrived at Middletown High, she gathered and considered everyone's input, Zimmer said, and took a team approach in helping students reach their potential. Zimmer credits this approach to her previous experiences as an educator and administrator.

"I think she always … learned in each of her experiences and tried to bring the best of her experiences to Middletown, and I'm sure she's doing the same at Tuscarora," he said.

Schlappal came to Frederick County Public Schools in 1993 to teach social studies at Windsor Knolls Middle School in Ijamsville, which opened the same year. Before then, she had taught at a private high school in Wisconsin.

Schlappal taught at Windsor Knolls Middle for five years while earning a post-graduate certificate in administration from Johns Hopkins University; she then became assistant principal at Middletown Middle School in 1998.

In 2002, Schlappal's next assignment was assistant principal at Brunswick High School until her tenure began at Middletown High in 2005.

Schlappal said she always knew she was an educator, though she originally set out to be a practicing historian or lawyer.

Raised in Cumberland, she studied history at Gettysburg College and then earned her master's degree in history and a teaching certificate at the University of Delaware. By then, Schlappal had realized that education was her life's mission and an invocation. "That was where I belonged," she added.