School has always been a place where Kathy Perriello feels comfortable. “I had wonderful experiences at school, wonderful teachers and administrators,” she said. “School was always a good place for me.”
Perriello was recently named the 2019 Charles County Principal of the Year and a finalist in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year program. It’s the latest milestone in a career that started after Perriello graduated from Towson State University with a degree in Spanish and secondary education. After earning a Bachelor of Arts, she received a call from the Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) office of human resources asking if she wanted to teach in the county. A product of the county’s public schools — she graduated from Thomas Stone High School — Perriello accepted a job as a Spanish teacher at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School.
“My first year of teaching was the best experience anyone could have,” she said. At Stoddert, she found wonderful colleagues, students and a great community, she said. She also found herself learning leadership skills from Dr. Bill Wise, the principal.
She left Stoddert to go to Westlake High School when it opened in 1992. “I did not want to leave Stoddert,” Perriello said. “But I knew that opening a new school doesn’t come around that often.”
At Westlake, her principal was Dr. John Cox. He was the one who encouraged Perriello to consider a career in school administration. She worked as a teacher and administrative assistant before being named a vice principal at the school in 1997. When Cox was tapped to be the assistant superintendent, Perriello took a position working with him as an instructional specialist at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, a job she held for six years.
She returned to school leadership as vice principal at General Smallwood Middle School and was named CCPS Vice Principal of the Year in 2009. At Smallwood, Perriello worked with Principal Cynthia Baker, another administrator she said influenced her career. “I credit Dr. Wise, Dr. Cox and Ms. Baker. I have tried to take some of their attributes and mold them into my own,” Perriello said.
She was also influenced by Peggy Stafford, the former CCPS coordinator for career and technology education, who worked with Perriello at Stoddert, Westlake and Starkey. “I consider her a mentor. She is someone who I admire. I respect her tenacity and philosophy of education,” she said. “Every child is important, every child has needs and the needs are different. But you do the best that you can. And you’re not always going to get it right, but they know that you care.”
Perriello was Smallwood’s principal from 2011 to 2015. In 2015, she took the principal’s position at Lackey. “I’ve been on the western side for 14 years between General Smallwood and Lackey high school,” Perriello said. “This is a community that I love. We always talk about West Side Pride and there is a pride that exists in this community.”
Perriello estimates about 65 percent of Lackey’s current seniors have been with her since they were in sixth grade. “It’s a unique opportunity and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Perriello said. “I’ve seen them grow from children to young adults.” Lackey also has students from Matthew Henson and Milton M. Somers middle schools and she works to ensure they feel like part of the family, as well.
Perriello encourages students and staff to become active in their community, beyond the classroom. She organized a donation to the Hospice of Charles County and a Thanksgiving donation to the Southern Maryland Food Bank. This year, Perriello revived the school’s Key Club — a Kiwanis Club offshoot for high school students — growing the membership from two to 20 students.
Jordyn Sinsel, a senior at Lackey, said it was her goal to stay away from the principal’s office. It was Perriello who changed her perspective on that. As the vice president of the Class of 2019 and a member of the Key Club, Sinsel has worked closely with Perriello. “It has been a pleasure to work with her, as we share similar values and ideas,” Sinsel said. “Mrs. Perriello has gone above her duties as principal of Lackey. She has done more than her share in trying to make the best atmosphere both academically and socially in our school.”
Perriello starts most mornings on bus duty welcoming students. Having a teenager say “good morning” or stop to give her a side hug is a positive part of the job. “That’s what propels you to stay motivated and energetic, that positivity,” she said.
“Every day is a new day. I’m a mom, so I want my children to have the best. I want the students here to have the best. The best teachers, the best opportunities for success,” she said. “I believe in high expectations and students will rise to meet high expectations.” She also expects her staff to strive to be the best.
“Mrs. Perriello by far is the strongest leader that I have ever worked with when it comes to instruction,” Smallwood Principal Brenda Tillotson wrote in a letter of recommendation. Tillotson was a vice principal at Smallwood while Perriello was principal. “She not only talks it, but she walks it. She is able to give guidance to all teachers to develop into stronger educators. She develops a community of learners at her school.”
Lackey staff and students adhere to the acronym GREAT. Growth, Relationships, Excellence, Accountability and Teamwork. No one works in isolation, Perriello said. She credits the Lackey staff for the success the school has enjoyed.
“I feel like I’ve been surrounded by excellence. I’ve been able to work with great people and this recognition is not about me or my work,” Perriello said. “It’s really about the people with whom I work. You rely on the people in the building, from your support staff members to teachers to counselors, administrators. It’s really a team. It’s not about me, it’s really about the school community.”
As Principal of the Year, Perriello will be honored by the Board of Education at its May 14 meeting. Perriello was also the finalist from Charles County in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year awards program in which one regional winner is chosen. She will be honored by the Post later this year.