Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Gail West to begin first year as Brooke Grove principal

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Chris Rossi/The Gazette
Gail West, new principal at Brooke Grove Elementary School in Olney, greets parents and students on Monday.

New Brooke Grove Elementary School Principal Gail West says she feels just like she won the lottery.

"This is just like a dream come true for me," the Brookeville resident said. "It is great to be able to come back to and work in the community that I know and love."

West, 52, can recall the day in third grade when she decided she wanted to be a teacher like her mother.

"I saw that my mother truly made a difference in the lives of people," she said. "I used to help her put up bulletin boards and grade papers. I loved it then and I still love it."

West began teaching in California and moved to this area when she had children. While raising her three daughters, she began working as a tutor and educational consultant.

Her daughters attended Greenwood Elementary School, Rosa Parks Middle School and Sherwood High School.

She became active in the Greenwood PTA, eventually serving as its president. She started the campaign to get a gymnasium built for the school, a project that was completed 12 years later.

From there she moved on to serve as a Sherwood Cluster coordinator, dealing with a controversial boundary change in the mid 1990s.

As her daughters got older, she began searching for something more to do.

She considered running for the Board of Education, but decided that was not for her.

She attended a seminar on administrative opportunities when she had what she describes as her "Oprah aha moment."

"I decided that becoming a principal was the perfect way to combine my leadership with my love of teaching," she said.

She returned to school to get her administrative credentials and joined the countyÍs principal training program.

Since joining Montgomery County Public Schools, she has worked as a reading initiative teacher at Barnsley and Rock Creek Valley elementary schools in Aspen Hill, a special education coordinator at Rock Creek Valley, and assistant principal at Glen Haven and Olney elementary schools.

Last year, she served as the principal intern at Bannockburn Elementary School.

West said there were not many openings for principals this year, and when the Brooke Grove position opened up, she felt like she "hit the jackpot."

"It's a beautiful school, with dedicated teachers, wonderful students and involved parents," she said. "Everyone has been very helpful and welcoming."

West said her first goal is to get to know the students.

Some parents set up get-togethers at their homes over the summer, enabling more than 100 parents to get to know West in a relaxed atmosphere.

West has also attended swim meets at the local swimming pools, trying to meet as many of the students as possible.

"I want to build trust and relationships," she said. "As I said to the parents in a letter I sent out, my vision is rigor, relationships, relevance and engagement as we prepare these kids for the 21st century and ensure that each and every child is successful."

Sharon Agranov, Brooke Grove Parent-Teacher Association president, said the PTA has been excited since the day West was appointed.

"She's been very gung-ho about working with us, and we are off to a really great start," Agranov said. "Mrs. West is just wonderful to work with. Everyone has welcomed her, and we are all looking forward to a really great year."

This is the second year in a row that the Brooke Grove community will have to adjust to a new principal. Linda McDaniel, who had led the school since 2000, abruptly resigned last August after accepting a job in her home state of California.

Emmanuel Jean-Philippe was appointed as the acting principal for the 2007-2008 school year. West was appointed to fill the permanent position in April and took over on July 1.