A little more than a week ago, Debbie Phelps was in Beijing, watching and cheering as her son Michael won his eighth gold medal in a single Olympics and shattered a 36-year-old record.
But yesterday morning, as she pulled her Volvo sport utility vehicle into the front parking lot at Windsor Mill Middle School, she was squarely back in her role as principal, focused on the "600 little ones" she was about to welcome into her school.
"My son's business is in his pool, and my business is right here in this schoolhouse," Phelps said, as she headed into the building. "I have great passion to see this school be a world-class school."
There were faint reminders of Olympic glory as students and parents trickled, then flowed in yesterday morning.
On the sign outside the school, there was a reference to the connection Windsor Mill has to the Rodgers Forge swimmer, with the message "Join the Olympic Excitement" between words of welcome to students.
Parents arriving seemed to think the mother of the swimmer who dominated the Water Cube and their television screens for days would be capable of achieving her goals for the school.
"We know, her raising a gold medalist, what kind of standards she has," said Ronnie Allen, who was bringing his sixth-grader, Adrien, to school. "As a principal, it's going to all filter down."
His wife, Rosemarie, said she had no idea that, as she jumped up and down while watching Michael Phelps in Beijing, she was catching occasional glimpses of her son's future principal.
She congratulated Debbie Phelps yesterday, even snatching a moment for a photograph of her son and husband with Phelps.
Windsor Mill parent Keisha Holmes also would like to find out how the principal feels about being the mother of an Olympic athlete - but she said her questions could wait until after the first-day rush.
"I figure [my daughter] will be here the next three years," Holmes said, "so I have time to talk to her."
Earlier this month, Phelps presented her students with a challenge called "Read Your Way to Beijing."
On Aug. 8, the students received recorded phone messages asking them to read as many 100-page, age-appropriate books as possible between then and Sept. 8, she said. The winners of a drawing will get to spend an afternoon or evening with her son at the ESPN Zone, she said.
Phelps said she wants to build on the double-digit gains her sixth- and seventh-grade students made last year on the Maryland School Assessment for reading.
Her desire for excellence fits in with parents' high hopes, Phelps said in an interview yesterday.
"Every principal brings to their school a level of very high expectations," she said.
"My mother taught me great values. I instill those same values in my children in the schoolhouse. My young ladies and gentlemen are very, very special to me, and I take great pride in our school."