The 2012-2013 school year at Westowne Elementary may have ended on a sour note, after a series of parent-led walkouts in June protesting the school's lack of air conditioning.
But Westowne's new principal, Shandra Patrick, is gearing up for a fresh start.
Patrick was named Westowne's principal July 9 to replace former principal Patricia Vogel, who retired in June.
"When I think about Catonsville and the folks that I've met so far, it's clear to me that the parents here are very passionate that their children's education is the best," said Patrick, a Reisterstown resident. "I'm looking forward to continuing those partnerships with parents."
Patrick, who spent the previous three years as the assistant principal at Franklin Elementary in Reisterstown, said she plans to work with parents and county officials to address concerns about the learning environment at the school on Harlem Lane.
"They [the parents who staged the walkouts] only want the best for their children and I can respect that," said Patrick, a mother of two. "I fault them none.
"What we need to think about is not just the air conditioning, but we also need to make sure we're focusing on all components to make the learning environment safe," she said.
Patrick grew up in Denver, and after receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Georgia, decided she wanted to pursue a career teaching at a collegiate level. She joined the social psychology doctorate program at the University of Rochester, before the arrival of her now 18-year-old son, Quentin Patrick, changed her course.
"I did take a leave of absence when Quentin was born, and I decided to stay home with him for a few years," Patrick said. "It was at that point that I decided I wanted to teach younger children.
"When you are home with your own child and just seeing that excitement and wonder and thirst to explore, I think that just really sparked something with me," she said. "It made it so I really wanted to work with younger children at the time."
She went back to school and graduated from Goucher College with a master's degree in teaching.
Patrick taught first, third and fifth grades at Scotts Branch Elementary in Randallstown, Oak Ridge County School in Woodlawn, Fort Garrison Elementary in Pikesville and Cedarmere Elementary in Reisterstown.
She said she is looking forward to getting to know teachers, students and parents in the Westowne community and that her experience as an assistant principal provided her with a great foundation for taking the helm at Westowne.
"I think what's exciting to me is that there are so many facets in education, and I think it's important that we look not only at the academic piece, but the behavioral piece as well," Patrick said.
"Instead of just sharing that passion [for teaching] within my classroom, if I could share that passion with other teachers and a whole school, that's what I wanted to do," she said.