For a quarter of a century, Debra O’Byrne has been a teacher and assistant principal in the Howard County Public School System.
This month, O’Byrne, Glenwood Middle School’s assistant principal, was named the 2018 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year and is in the running for a national award.
“I was very shocked and surprised,” said O’Byrne, a Woodbine resident. “It’s a true honor to represent the students, staff and parents of Glenwood.”
Scott Pfeifer, executive director of the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, and Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano recognized O’Byrne with the award Oct. 5. Glenwood Middle’s Kelli Brandt was also named 2017-2018 Counselor of the Year.
The association will have a formal ceremony for O’Byrne at its Assistant Principals Conference Oct. 17 at Overhills Mansion in Catonsville. Pfeifer said O’Byrne joins the state’s list of nominees for the national award to be announced this spring.
O’Byrne was among 45 statewide nominations for assistant principal of the year, Pfeifer said, seven of which completed the required application process.
Howard County has had four Maryland Assistant Principals of the Year designations since 2003, including Melissa Shindel, currently principal at Mayfield Woods Middle, who was named the National Assistant Principal of the Year in 2009 while at Patuxent Valley Middle School.
“When you think about it, you expect assistant principals to be student-focused because they’re the arm of the principal,” Pfeifer said. “[O’Byrne] looks to make sure that students are engaged at her school and she focuses on student leadership opportunities.”
Pfeifer said O’Byrne uses restorative practice to help students who “don’t always have a lot of success” and provides professional development for staff.
“Restorative practice is a movement to help kids who aren’t always being as successful,” Pfeifer said. “Rather than looking at punishment or discipline, you look at a more positive route of getting them back in the mainstream.”
The 25-year educator became Glenwood Middle’s assistant principal in 2010, and previously taught fifth-grade and middle school science and was assistant principal at Mount View and Ellicott Mills middle schools.
O’Byrne said she was “humbled and honored” to receive this award for Glenwood Middle, a “high-functioning, instructional school.”
“One of my main focuses was being a champion for restorative practices and bringing them and professional development to our school,” she said. “It’s more than just professional development; it’s shifting mindsets and building relationships.”
O’Byrne said having two daughters in the school system gives her a different perspective on how to help students grow academically.
“I work very hard each and every day to make sure that I’m promoting each and every child and their individual strengths and the leadership of the teachers,” O’Byrne said. “Any time you do work around children and the development of a child, it never ends.”
Principal Robert Motley, who O’Byrne described as her “mentor,” said he strongly encouraged her to apply for this recognition. O’Byrne said she has “very high respect and regards” for Motley, who served on the nomination committee.
“I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving,” Motley said. “I’m truly glad that others recognize all of the hard work she puts in every day.
“Assistant principals, in my opinion, are the foundation of how a school runs on a daily basis,” he said. “Working with her, she has an ability to really make sure that this school is running smoothly each and every day. Her ability to do that frees me up to then deal with the larger issues at hand, and she does it effectively.”
Frank Eastham, the school system’s chief school management and instructional leadership officer, said O’Byrne is “somebody that has always embraced student-centered values and is a true champion for students who need her most.”