Melinda Carper cannot wait for Aug. 25 when 378 students are expected to walk through the doors at Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling.
“It’s lonesome during the summer. I can’t wait for them to come here,” Carper said about the first day of school.
Carper started July 1 as the school’s principal to replace Wayne C. Mills, who retired at the end of the 2002-03 school year. She served as assistant principal at Ashburn Elementary School for the past four years and wanted to take on the principalship position to work closer with instruction and student achievement than she could in her previous position.
“She’s the perfect principal for that school. She’ll do a great job,” said Julie Boyd, principal at Ashburn Elementary School for three years. “She’s very dedicated and a very hard worker, probably one of the most organized people I met. She’s a really good person, good with kids. … She can get down on their level.”
Boyd mentioned the many hours Carper spent at the school to work with students. “She always went above and beyond with her job,” she said. “She always took the time.”
AT ROLLING RIDGE, Carper plans to raise the state-required Standards of Learning scores for each student in the school and see to it that the students are learning and achieving, along with using higher thinking skills through teachers asking students how they come to their answers and solutions. “I think questioning techniques are important to developing critical thinking skills. It gets them to think about what they’re [learning] instead of just memorizing,” she said.
Each week, Carper plans to stop in every classroom in the school and visit with the staff of 21 teachers to observe and not evaluate, she said. She wants to find out how the teachers are interacting with students and identify any of their unmet needs. “When they need something, I want to support them,” she said.
Carper uses a system for her teacher visits. She puts all of the teachers’ names in a baggie, then pulls the names out after each visit, so she does not leave anyone out. She got started on the visits early this year by sending teachers letters that invited them to meet her on an individual basis before the school year starts.
“She’s very optimistic and has a lot of good ideas she wants to implement,” said Kelly Meisenzahl, assistant principal at the school for the past year, adding that Carper is personable and friendly.
THIS FRIDAY, Carper plans to knock on doors to introduce herself, Meisenzahl and Parents Teacher Association (PTA) president Jennifer Villani to Rolling Ridge students and their parents. During the school year, she intends to learn the name of every student by visiting with students in the cafeteria, in the halls and in their classrooms. Likewise, she wants parents to feel comfortable coming to her with questions or their concerns as part of her open-door policy. “The children need to see we’re partners, that we’re working together … for them, and that’s very important. It helps with discipline when children know we’re working together,” she said.
Carper plans to support the school’s reading, remediation and other programs, along with offering programs to give parents opportunities to visit the school. “To start with, I want to keep what we have and add extra support for what students need,” she said.
Liking children is what motivated Carper to become an educator. “I just wanted to work with children and be around children. I used to play school as a child, but I don’t know what led me there, probably just being around children,” she said. “Children keep me focused on what’s real. They’re so innocent and honest. They keep me grounded.”
Carper started her education career in 1978 as an elementary school teacher in Frederick County, where she was born and raised and still resides. She taught until 1999, when she moved to Loudoun County Public Schools to take the assistant principal position.
“This is a very child-oriented school system,” Carper said. “Student achievement is number one for Loudoun County.”
Carper holds a bachelor of arts degree from Shepherd College, a master’s degree in education from George Mason University and is working on her doctorate at Shenandoah University. She and her husband Gary Carper, manager of a building supply company in Winchester, have three adult children and two grandchildren.