Fifteen school principals and teachers from Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties were honored Friday by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) for their exceptional work during Hoyer’s annual Fifth Congressional District Educators of the Year Luncheon, held outside on the grounds of the historic Billingsley House in Upper Marlboro.

“Teachers are the most important people in our country,” Hoyer said. “Their tireless efforts to prepare our students for success ought to be lauded regularly.”

The Southern Maryland honorees included Henry E. Lackey High School Principal Kathy Perriello, Huntingtown Elementary School teacher Willanette Thomas-Lohr from Calvert County and Leonardtown High School teacher Tracy Harding from St. Mary’s County.

Perriello, a finalist in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year program who was recently named the 2019 Charles County Principal of the Year, said school has always been a place where she felt comfortable and shared wonderful experiences with students and staff.

Being recognized by someone like Hoyer is “truly an honor,” Perriello said, as he understands that the work teachers and principals do in preparing students for success is carried out with sincere passion.

“You do it for the love of the students. You don’t look for recognition,” said Perriello, whose early career began as a Spanish teacher at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School and then at Westlake High School where she worked as a teacher and administrative assistant before being named vice principal in 1997. “So, for someone to recognize that is truly an honor in itself. I truly feel that Lackey High School and the west side of the county is a gem that a lot of people don’t recognize.”

One of the “most wonderful accomplishments” that Perriello said she is proud of is that Lackey increased its graduation rate by more than 7%, the highest improvement made in Charles County over the past couple of years.

“Considering that we do have some challenges in terms of poverty and special needs, to have that kind of a graduation rate is what I’m very proud of,” she said. “Our students are being successful and achieving the same goals. They’re reaching milestones just like everyone else in spite of some of the challenges that they might have.”

“We definitely have a passion for working with kids. Each day is different, each day is unique,” Perriello added. “As a principal, I am humbled to be in the presence of these teachers because they are the backbone. Every position is, but the teachers are the heart and soul of the daily operations of the school. They’re the ones who are forging and building great relationships with students every day, and that’s really the foundation of what we do at Lackey. My hat goes off to all the teachers.”

Hoyer said “investments in early childhood, elementary and secondary education remains absolutely essential to the success” of local communities, the state and the nation. Congress must work to ensure that “teachers have the tools and support they need to do their jobs effectively,” according to a press release from Hoyer’s office.

“I’m very happy and proud to be recognized. However, I realize that me being as strong of a teacher as I am is because of those I work with and the teachers who mentor me,” said Lohr, a fifth-grade teacher who is a Washington Post Teacher of the Year finalist. “My greatest accomplishments are the relationships I have with my families and school community. I feel like I’m active in my classroom but I’m also active in our school community. Even though I teach fifth grade, I try to interact with a lot of students from varying grade levels so they can see my face continually throughout the school year.”

Having taught at Huntingtown Elementary for 14 years where her children currently attend, Lohr said “being a strong part” of the school community is important, especially when it comes to helping other kids reach their potential beyond academics.

“I work with a math, engineering and science achievement club. I also lead a science club and a cooking club in which I try to integrate math and science as we’re working,” Lohr said. “My children go to my school and so I want them to realize how important it is to me that they do well in school and participate in things, too. I think kids don’t see limits to their thinking and I love that they are always asking why and wanting to figure out how things work. Even from working with pre-K students all the way up to fifth-grade students, you can tell when a child is learning and has that ‘aha’ moment. I love hearing their thoughts and ideas and when they’re willing to seek out more.”

Harding said preparing students for success is “really exciting” as St. Mary’s County, the place where she happened to grow up in and be a product of the school system, is home to some of the best teachers.

“My students excel and do well. My mock trial team has made it to the Circuit 7 playoff competition for the past three or four years,” Harding said. “I’m most proud of the relationships with my kids and the success that they have had. [My favorite part of being a teacher is] hanging out with teenagers all day — it’s fun because they teach you all kinds of weird, dorky, cheesy things like technology that you have no clue about. I even learned how to put emojis in text messages. I’m doing what I need to do for my kids and it’s nice to hang out with other teachers who are doing so, too. I just want to keep on teaching and helping them succeed in the classroom.”

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY