For most of her life, Carrie Richardson wanted to be a teacher.
“I always knew,” said the principal of Mary H. Matula Elementary School who was recently named the 2023 Charles County Public Schools Principal of the Year.
Yet, after landing on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park in her freshman year, she questioned her future, according to a release from the school system. Business and finance started to sound like a more interesting major.
It was the 1980s, and that field of study “seemed so much more glamourous,” Richardson said. Business majors looked like they were setting themselves up for a life of wealth and luxury. “So, I switched my major,” Richardson said. “And I hated it.” She went back to education. “I told my parents, ‘I am meant to be a teacher. That’s what I want to do.’”
This marks Richardson’s 35th year in education, a career launched when she accepted a job teaching kindergarten at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School. “I always knew I wanted to teach kindergarten,” she said. “The children still love their teachers when they are that age. They still love school,” Richardson said. “Everything is new and exciting, and you can see the growth so much more readily because they’re like little sponges who soak up so much.”
As much as she enjoyed being in the classroom — after seven years as a kindergarten teacher, she spent one more at Dr. Mudd teaching in a multi-year classroom — Richardson knew she could do more.
“I had a plan,” she said. “I’m an organized person who needs to have a plan, and I need to have goals.”
First, within five years of graduation, she would earn her master’s. Second, within 10 years, she would be an administrator. She secured her master’s within four years of graduation and was named vice principal of Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School eight years after getting her bachelor’s degree. She served as vice principal at Jenifer, Walter J. Mitchell and J.C. Parks elementary schools before she was named principal at Gale-Bailey Elementary School in 2002.
It was while at Gale-Bailey that one of the highlights of Richardson’s career took place. “The Polar Express” movie — based on Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book of the same name — was released in 2004. The entire school attended a theater screening. Every grade, every teacher, every staff member including food and nutrition and building service workers, piled into a theater and watched a favorite book among students and staff come to life.
“That was a good day,” Richardson said.
Richardson left Gale-Bailey in 2013 to become principal of Matula where she has remained. “She has created a safe and nurturing environment within Mary H. Matula, and I cannot think of a better school for my children to attend,” Sarah R. Michael, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), said. “Her positive leadership has helped strengthen our school and community.”
Richardson has an open-door policy, and because she keeps her own calendar, staff don’t have to make appointments to meet with her. If they have a minute and the door is open, they are welcomed in.
“She is always ready to offer support with a positive attitude and a smile,” Nicole E. Vigil, fifth-grade teacher at Matula, said. “Mrs. Richardson is upfront, fair and understanding. She has the ability to inspire educators across grade levels and departments to work together and get things done.”
“Mrs. Richardson always made it a priority to get to know her staff, not only professionally, but on a personal level as well,” Shane Blandford, Richardson’s vice principal at Matula prior to being named principal of Indian Head Elementary School, said. “She understands how important relationships are, not only with students, but all stakeholders.”
Strengthening connections between school and home while cultivating relationships are important to Richardson. It’s a priority that she knows all the students in the building, and they are comfortable around her.
“I know the kids, and the kids know me,” she said.
This practice helps operations run smoothly since learning doesn’t stop because the principal is in a classroom. Rather the students say “Hi” and carry on with their day.
“You want everything to continue just as it would if you were not there,” Richardson said. “So, you can walk around and see what the kids are doing without it being something special because their principal is there.”
Students take notice of Richardson’s interest in their education. “Mrs. Richardson holds students to high expectations because Matula is a place where we are taught to show the three R’s — Respectful, Responsible and Ready to Learn,” Emma Mackey, a Matula fifth grader, said. “She knows the names of all the students, says ‘Hello,’ to us each morning and stops by classrooms often to see learning in action.”
Matula first-grade student Audra Dee wrote and illustrated a short story, “The Best Principal,” to highlight Richardson’s contributions to the school. Dee described Richardson as friendly, and as someone who keeps staff and students safe, while ensuring learning is fun.