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As Don McClenahan started his first week as principal of George Fox Middle School in Pasadena, he called upon his 34 years of education experience to deal with the hordes of newcomers and returning students.

"It's been a smooth opening," said a smiling Mr. McClenahan, 55. "I think having gone through prior moves. . . . I've had to learn to build upon my experience to become familiar with the schools I went to."

His experience is extensive. After graduating from Penn State University with a bachelor's degree in education, he moved to the Baltimore area to teach art at Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High School.

Eight years later, he became an assistant principal at Annapolis Senior High School. He served there three years before becoming assistant principal for Glen Burnie Senior High School. After three years at Glen Burnie, he spent a year as an assistant principal for Southern Senior High School.

Mr. McClenahan got his first taste of being principal when he was promoted to the position at Southern. He was principal there for five years. He then returned to Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High Schools for a five-year stint as principal. For the past 10 years, he has been principal of Severn River Junior High School.

As he prepared to open George Fox, Mr. McClenahan found areas of improvement like those he'd encountered at his other PTC schools. Absenteeism was a big problem in the 1993-1994 school year. More than 100 of the school's 972 students were absent for more than 20 days.

A new computer program that keeps up-to-date attendance sheets and alerts school officials when students have too many absences should help fight the problem. With the program's help, school officials will be able to call the student's parents and notify them of their child's absence.

Mr. McClenahan said the computer program was a hit when he was principal at Severn River Junior High School. "I found the parents were very receptive to it," he said. "They appreciated the call because they wanted to know."

Mr. McClenahan said he also wants to continue George Fox Middle School's improvements on the Maryland Functional Tests. In 1993, 97.4 percent of the students who took the exams passed the reading category, 80.7 percent in math and 96.8 percent in writing.

In 1994, the school boasted passing rates of 98.7 percent, 93.2 percent, and 91.5 percent in reading, math, and writing, respectively.

Mr. McClenahan said the school would continue its after-school tutoring program and keep encouraging parents to get involved in their children's schoolwork.

More computers also could be in store for the school. The computer lab now has 30 Apple terminals.

"This is a must for [the students]," he said. "There's not going to be one place in their future that will not be touched by computers."

Mr. McClenahan has met with the local Parent Teacher Student Association to discuss his goals and the concerns of association members.

"I think it's important to have parental leadership that speaks for the community," he said. "When you have parents, teachers, and the school working together, you're going to have a cohesive school working to meet today's standards."

PTSA President Brenda Evans, whose 13-year-old son Christopher is in the eighth grade at Fox Middle, predicted a cooperative relationship between the group and the new principal.

"He's not going to upset the apple cart to make 50 million changes," Mrs. Evans said. "He's going to go with what already has been going on. . . . He seems very well oriented to the children, and he's doing what's best for the school."

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