Gerstell Academy begins year with new president, CEO

Gerstell Academy begins year with new president, CEO
Lorraine Fulton, right, greets fourth-grader Bode Yelland, center, with Colin Ricker, left, and teacher Lindsey Proescher at Gerstell Academy in Finksburg on Thursday, Aug. 27. Fulton is beginning her first year as president of Gerstell Academy. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO)

The new school year at private preparatory school Gerstell Academy brings a number of changes in leadership this year, as the kindergarten-through-12th-grade school continues to grow.

Lorraine Fulton, a retired public school superintendent who has served as head of middle school since 2008 at Gerstell, is now overseeing daily operations for lower, middle and upper schools at the Finksburg school as president and CEO, replacing school founder Frederick G. Smith in the role.


Smith, who opened the school in 1996, will continue to serve as chairman of the board of trustees and president emeritus, according to Fulton.

"He is going to stay totally involved in the school," said Fulton, a Finksburg resident. "He still has strong influence in the direction the school moves in."

The change was made as a result of the school achieving Association of Independent Maryland and D.C. Schools accreditation, and Middle States accreditation under Fulton's leadership.

"It is truly an honor — truly a humbling experience for me," Fulton said. "I have had a long career in education and have loved every moment of it; how blessed I am, how fortunate I am to be at Gerstell Academy at this point."

Fulton said the accreditation, which lasts for 10 years, is important for two reasons: It allows the school to compete in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, and it allows the school to receive additional funding support.

In order to receive the accreditation, Smith could not serve as both the president and chairman, and that's why Fulton was appointed to the role by the board of trustees, Fulton said.

Fulton served as school administrator, director of student services and deputy superintendent before she retired as superintendent of St. Mary's County Public Schools, a career that spanned 30 years. After her retirement, she became assistant superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools, for which she worked for two years before finding Gerstell.

"It's been full steam ahead ever since then," Fulton said. "This is the most amazing place in the world to work — it truly is — to learn and to teach."

Fulton said that although she will be taking on additional responsibilities in her new role, she feels it won't differ much from what she has done in the past.

"What changes for me now is … I'm doing the kind of work I did for many years in other venues — as the middle school head, my focus was totally on the middle school. … Now, of course, my focus is on the entire school — pre-K through 12th grade, all areas of safety and all areas of life on the school campus," Fulton said.

Mary Louque, vice president and director of admissions, has worked with Fulton since she began at Gerstell.

"She is an amazing leader with the incredible capability to provide direction, guidance and mentorship to all of those around her," Louque said. "She's definitely a role model for all of us; she has those leadership qualities that really help us move forward."

Fulton said what sets Gerstell apart from other schools in both the private and the public sector is its value system and its mission-centered focus on leadership development.

"We are recognized as the premiere, as the elite leadership program in Maryland," Fulton said.


"We have four specific areas in our school that the children will be exposed to, will work through and grow because of their involvement in these areas from pre-K through 12th grade," Fulton said. "The first is, of course, that we are a college prep school, and children from the time they enter the halls of Gerstell as little people in pre-K or first grade, they are on a journey that is going to take them as they graduate to whatever college that they would like to attend; we have a very strong academic program."

Fulton said that as the school grows, she hopes to maintain the foundation laid by Smith.

"We want to maintain — and make stronger, even — our value system and our leadership development program," Fulton said. "We this year are experiencing our largest increase in enrollment that we ever have had."

The school began in 2002 with a class of seven children. It has since grown to 352 students.

"That is a very large increase and a very rapid increase, so one of the things that we want to do is make sure our infrastructure stays ahead of our enrollment," Fulton said.

Fulton said the school will break ground on an alumni house in about a month.

"We want our families to know that this is their school; and as generations grow up, we want them to come back," Fulton said. "The focus area right now is get our school started in a positive way."