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Bester principal to take over Rockland Woods

January 26, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - She's transformed two struggling elementary schools, and now Kathy Stiles has been named principal of Washington County's newest school - Rockland Woods Elementary.

Stiles has been principal of Bester Elementary for three years, and before that worked for two years as principal of Eastern Elementary.

Test scores at both schools were lagging when Stiles took over but rebounded during her tenure.

"I am so proud of what we've done here," she said. "It's very emotional because I love this place. I love the children."

Stiles said she is uncomfortable taking much of the credit. She praised the students, teachers, staff and community with turning around Bester.

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More than 80 percent of Bester's students live in poverty, which Stiles said presents some challenges. She said she is looking forward to facing a new set of challenges at Rockland Woods Elementary, which is still under construction.

The school is being built south of Hagerstown off Sharpsburg Pike in the Westfields housing development. It will open for students in August.

Stiles visited the new school for the first time Thursday and said she is excited about the possibilities the facility offers. She said the oversized classrooms, science labs, music classrooms and new technology will make Rockland Woods a great place for students to learn.

"This is going to be an excellent place for children," Stiles said of the new school. "But I will really miss the Bester family. I've developed relationships with families ... with students."

Tiffany Tresler, a third-grade teacher at Bester, said that students often go to Stiles' office and have lunch with her.

"They love her," Tresler said.

The teaching staff at Bester also is sad to see Stiles leave, she said. Tresler has taught at Bester since Stiles arrived, and she worked with Stiles during her time at Eastern as well. Tresler also was a longtime substitute teacher at Greenbrier Elementary - where Stiles worked as principal for three years.

Tresler said she is considering applying for a teaching position at Rockland Woods.

"She's the only principal I've ever known," Tresler said. "She has high expectations for students and staff, and motivates us to meet those expectations."

Kristi Bachtell, the current principal of Emma K. Doub Elementary School, will take over as principal at Bester for the 2008-09 school year. Elizabeth Donohoe, supervisor of advanced programs for Washington County Public Schools, will be the principal at Emma K. Doub School starting in the 2008-09 school year.

"I think (Stiles) is a great choice for Rockland Woods because opening a new school is a huge and challenging job, but she's got the energy, the attitude and the expertise to do that very large task well," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Terri Mullican, a kindergarten teacher at Bester, said Stiles was able to develop a community at Bester and a positive atmosphere. Mullican, who has been at Bester for four years, said Stiles makes teachers want to excel and makes students want to succeed.

"She has high expectations for teachers, parents and students," Mullican said. "And we've all lived up to her expectations."

Stiles said she looks forward to building a community and a family at Rockland Woods. Interviews for an estimated 20 classroom teachers expected to teach at Rockland Woods will begin in February, Stiles said.

"I want to get all of the stakeholders involved," she said. "And customize the school to match the identity of the community."

Students, parents and staff will have input about the mascot, after-school programs and other features of the new school. She wants to get parents involved, and plans to have a picnic over the summer so that students, staff and parents can get to know each other. She's planning open houses and wants to have an active PTA, saying she would like to have as many parent volunteers as possible.

"We're going to do a lot," Stile said. "We'll come up with our own traditions."

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