An important element of any strong instructional program is its leader. Someone who is knowledgeable, passionate and committed to the success of both students and staff. For the Charles County Public Schools secondary education program, that person is Joan Withers. Withers has spent most of her career in education with CCPS, starting first as a high school English teacher and now as director of secondary education leading a team of more than 26 content specialists and staff.
Withers is highly regarded as a tireless advocate for instruction and pushes those around her to achieve excellence. Her passion for education is evident in all that she does for CCPS. For these qualities and her ability to lead with passion, Withers was named the 2020 recipient of the James E. Richmond Leadership in Excellence Award.
Withers was presented with the award at the Board of Education’s March meeting. In presenting the award, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Amy Hollstein said Withers was a natural choice for an award that recognizes someone who leads by example. “The Richmond Leadership Award is a tribute to an educator who during their career led by example and had a positive and lasting impact on the school system,” Hollstein said.
The award was established in 2013 to honor CCPS staff members who exhibit high standards of excellence and leadership. It was named in honor of former longtime Superintendent James E. Richmond, who spent his entire educational career with CCPS. Former Board of Education Chairman Col. Donald M. Wade launched the award to honor Richmond when he announced his plans to retire.
Withers began her career in 1981 as an English teacher at La Plata High School. She held her students to high standards, challenged them with rigorous instruction and pushed them toward academic excellence. “Students knew they would be challenged in her class and the work would be rigorous, but they were being prepared for college-level writing,” Hollstein said.
Later during her career, Withers took on the role of high school resource teacher at La Plata. In this role, Withers supported all teachers, students and staff. She mentored others, led by example and worked closely with new teachers to help them be successful. Withers was first honored for excellence in the classroom in 1994. She was named the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Charles County by the Washington Post.
Rebecca Pearson is the CCPS content specialist for career and technical education. She works on the secondary education team with Withers and has another connection with her supervisor: she was once a student in Withers’ classroom. Pearson said Withers not only wrote her college recommendation letter, but also was the teacher who influenced her the most.
“Being the youngest of three children, I had heard about this teacher before I even entered her classroom. That is because she leaves a lasting impression on her students. She has the extraordinary gift of holding you to the highest standard while forming life-long relationships. Now, I have the unique experience of having her as a supervisor. The standards she held in the classroom are exemplified in the workplace. When you get a compliment from Joan, it makes you beam. You know it is deserved and it means the world,” Pearson shared during Withers’ award recognition ceremony.
Withers left a teaching job in Pennsylvania to join CCPS. For nearly 20 years, Withers taught English to students in Grades 9-12 at La Plata. She said her goal was to create readers, writers and listeners who would have the critical thinking and communication skills necessary for success in any field. Withers said the professional development opportunities provided to her by CCPS are what made her career worth staying in Maryland. “I stayed with CCPS because of the professional opportunities that I would never have encountered in Pennsylvania,” Withers said.
Withers attributes her success as an educator to her father, a craftsman who taught wood and metal shop. “From him, I learned the importance of a strong work ethic, the need for attention to detail, and the positive impact a teacher can have on the life of a student,” Withers said.
After a 39-year career with CCPS, Withers plans to retire at the end of this school year. She said the highlights of her career include seeing former students graduate and become successful, and leading the secondary content team. “It has been extremely gratifying to see the success of former students. I’ve been most fortunate to lead the secondary content team. As colleagues, the secondary folks are conscientious, principled and professional. They are the best work family,” Withers said.
A plaque featuring the Richmond Leadership Award honorees is on display outside of the boardroom at the CCPS Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building.
One honoree is selected for the award annually.