Malcolm Elementary leader named Charles County Principal of the Year
Honored for building connections, community among students, staff and parents
Malcolm Elementary School Principal Wilhelmina Pugh is still as passionate about education and working with young people as she was when she started in Charles County Public Schools in 1980.
“I love my job; there have been so many opportunities afforded to me in this school system,” Pugh said.
Pugh was recently recognized by
Charles County Public Schools as its 2017 Principal of the Year, and as a finalist in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year regional awards program.
Pugh will be honored by the Charles County Board of Education at its May 9 meeting, and by the Post at an event for finalists in June.
Pugh said she was honored and surprised to receive the award, as the staff and parents who nominated her kept it a secret.
“Everyone else was on pins and needles, and I didn’t know what was going on,” Pugh said. “But once they found out that I had received it, it felt good because it meant so much to them.”
Linda Hollomon, fifth grade teacher, is one of those who nominated Pugh.
“She demonstrates a genuine concern for the academic, professional and personal aspect of each Malcolm student and staff member. She emphasizes high academics standards be achieved through exemplary teaching,” Hollomon said in an email. “However, the importance of achievement never overshadows her personal interest in the lives of Malcolm families, students or staff members. This personal connection encourages students and staff to strive toward excellence while working in a comforting and accepting environment.”
Erin Berfield, music teacher at Malcolm, said she has worked with Pugh for nine of her 10 years at the school.
“She’s an amazing principal,” Berfield said. “She is very rarely in her office unless she has important paperwork to do. The kids all know her, she’s very interactive in the classroom. She’s come into the music room on occasion and sat down and sung with the kids, did some of the dances they do, she’s always very interested in what they’re doing and she always asks them questions to see if they understand what’s going on in the lesson.”
Pugh said she had not initially planned to go into school administration. A native of North Carolina, she began her career in Charles County as a speech and language pathologist, just after receiving her master’s degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
“One of my friends at Bowling Green came to Charles County, and she told me they had openings for speech and language pathologists. It was only four hours from my home in North Carolina, and I wanted to be close enough that I could drive to my parents,” Pugh said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
For 18 years she worked as a speech and language pathologist in CCPS.
“I really enjoyed it,” Pugh said. “You’re working with small groups, and you could work with them over a period of time and see so many gains.”
Pugh served as an administrative intern at C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School in January 1998, and was named vice principal at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School that fall.
She served as vice principal at two other elementary schools, Dr. Thomas L. Higdon and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, before being named Malcolm’s principal in 2008.
Pugh said she sees her role as being an organizer and facilitator.
“When you’re in the school, you have the ability to make those continuing connections with the faculty and the community and what they feel the needs are, and when you’re the principal, you have the ability to help make those changes,” Pugh said. “If somebody has better or birghter ideas, I embrace that.”
One of Pugh’s initiatives has been to pair fifth graders in need of reading assistance with kindergartners they can read to.
“It’s twofold, because we want all the children to be interested in learning, interested in reading and our fifth graders are kind of the role models for our school … the little ones look up to the fifth graders,” Pugh said. “But also we’re strategic in the fifth graders we select, because we select the fifth graders who have difficulty in reading … it gives them that confidence when they go down to read with the primary students.”
Pugh said it is important that the school community view itself as a family.
“I think that is the key to our success, that everyone takes ownership of every student who walks through that door,” Pugh said.
J. Megan Maletto, instructional resource teacher at Malcolm, said in an email that Pugh leads by example, building positive relationships with students, staff and community members.
“She is often heard saying, ‘Once a Malcolm family member, always a Malcolm family member,’ and has truly nourished a school culture of mutual caring and respect,” Maletto said. “Mrs. Pugh is known for greeting her students by name every morning as they walk in the door and being present in our classrooms on a daily basis.”
Pugh said she doesn’t see the award as being hers alone, as it takes a team effort to make a successful school.
“It’s all about everyone at the school, we’ve all made it happen, the parents being supportive, the teachers being on-board, the students and the community,” Pugh said. “It takes all of us.”
Malcolm Elementary School Principal Wilhelmina Pugh was named the Charles County 2017 Principal of the Year, and is a finalist for the Washington Post’s regional Principal of the Year award program.
Wilhelmina Pugh, principal of Malcolm Elementary, with Malcolm third graders from left Kesley Condo, Hunter Headley, Landon Newsome and Elizabeth Tober. Pugh was named the Charles County 2017 Principal of the Year, and is a finalist for the Washington Post’s regional Principal of the Year award program.