Two Harford County public school administrators have been singled out as the best in the state for 2013.
The Maryland Association for Secondary School Principals named Edgewood High School's Larissa Santos Principal of the Year, while the state's Association of Elementary School Principals named Havre de Grace Elementary's Ron Wooden Assistant Principal of the Year.
Staff and students at both Edgewood and Havre de Grace, where a spirit of excitement and a sense of family are palpable, said the awards to their top leaders are well-deserved.
'Like the Magic Kingdom'
At Havre de Grace Elementary School, life is a celebration, and students dress up for annual Fun Days and are greeted each morning with music and dancing. At the center of it is former assistant principal and now interim principal Ron Wooden, a vibrant whirl of activity whom staff members call a role model, a cheerleader and a character.
"It's just been like a breath of fresh air having him here," Ann Muir, a Havre de Grace Elementary teacher for 30 years, said. "He is 100 percent behind his teachers and 100 percent behind his children."
Wooden has served since 2011 as assistant principal at Havre de Grace, where he arrived after serving as assistant principal at Aberdeen's George D. Lisby Elementary School since 2009.
After Principal Renee Villareal was promoted to school improvement and intervention coordinator, Wooden stepped in as interim principal in January.
"Serve" is an operative word for Wooden, who attributes his award to the school staff and the Harford County community, not just himself.
"This award does not represent Ron Wooden. This award represents Havre de Grace Elementary School," he said. "One of my favorite passages in the Good Book is, 'I have come to serve, not be served.'"
Wooden spoke seriously about the importance of a principal understanding the institution and child development.
"I think the fact that I am visible, seeing what children are doing, makes a difference in the lives of the children," he said.
With administrators, "I am here and I am willing to listen and willing to roll up my sleeves and willing to help them with their craft as teachers."
Havre de Grace Elementary is a Title 1 school, with more than 69 percent of the school's students living in poverty.
Wooden, who was Harford County's Teacher of the Year in 2008, said that was how he grew up in Philadelphia.
Now 37, he knew he wanted to become a teacher since his second-grade teacher, Joan Godwin, inspired him.
But beyond his commitment to teaching "deportment skills" and helping teachers, Wooden clearly knows how to have a good time.
Together with Villareal, Wooden said he helped craft a vision of the school as a destination and an exciting place.
Their inspiration? DisneyWorld.
"This is like the Magic Kingdom," Wooden said from inside his cheerful office, decorated with children's handwritten cards and canisters covered with the word "Believe."