Back To School: Pershing Hill Elementary welcomes new principal

Christopher Wooleyhand, the new principal at Pershing Hill Elementary School, encourages students and teachers to become lifelong learners. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

Two years of service in the Peace Corps as a public school teacher in the U.S. Virgin Islands convinced Christopher Wooleyhand that becoming an educator was the career for him.

“It was a life-changing experience,” he said. “I was never the same.”

Wooleyhand is now the new principal of Pershing Hill Elementary School. He started June 21 after eight years as principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie.

Wooleyhand replaces Kimberley Terry, who after serving at Pershing Hill for three years, has been assigned to Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis.

Today, Pershing Hill is hosting “Peek At Your Seat” at 2 p.m. to welcome students and parents for the new school year.

Students and parents are invited to meet teachers, visit classrooms and become familiar with the requirements for the first week of school, which begins Tuesday.

“The idea is for students to learn their new routine to make the first week less stressful,” Wooleyhand said.

The school’s PTA will also sign up new members.

Lifelong Learner

A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Wooleyhand said teaching outside the continental United States helped to form his philosophy as an educator. He said he strives to encourage both students and teachers to become lifelong learners.

“I’ve tried to live a life that says ‘don’t stop learning’ no matter what your age,” he said.

Wooleyhand said his goal for his first year is to build on the leadership that Terry established.

“I want to get to know the students, teachers and the staff to learn what makes being on a military post unique,” he said. “I also want to support the military families in the challenges they face.”

The majority of students enrolled at Pershing Hill are military children.

Another of Wooleyhand’s goals is to help students “use their skills to build a foundation that will help them succeed in the real world,” he said. “I hope that they will contribute to the community when they graduate.”

Several years ago, Anne Arundel County Public Schools initiated changes in the curriculum for reading and math in elementary schools.

This year, Wooleyhand said, the focus in reading instruction is to make the proficiency in literacy specific to each child. Math instruction will focus on helping students solve real-world problems.

Today, educators strive to help students “apply knowledge and work collaboratively with others,” he said. “Future industries will require our students to be problem-solvers who can work well with others.”

Two new administrative staff members have also joined the team at Pershing Hill: Jennifer Bennett, an assistant principal, and Erica McCabe, a school counselor.

The new principal grew up in Sykesville. His father served in the Navy. Along with his three brothers, Wooleyhand participated in sports throughout elementary and high school.

Wooleyhand initially decided to major in fine arts at Towson University with the hope of a career in graphic design. But after his experience in the Peace Corps, he changed his major to education and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical/outdoor education.

He then pursued a master’s degree in education from North Illinois University.

Wooleyhand landed a job as an educator at Arlington Echo, an outdoor education center in Millersville where he supported schools by helping children learn about environmental literacy and stewardship.

By 1993, he was a physical education teacher at Severn Elementary School, where he worked for six years.

In 1997, he earned an education administration certificate from Loyola University in Baltimore.

Two years later, Wooleyhand served as a the assistant principal at Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena, and later became an assistant principal at Four Seasons Elementary School in Gambrills.

Using Social Media

By 2005, Wooleyhand was the principal at Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis, where he worked for four years before coming to Richard Henry Lee Elementary School.

In 2012, he earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Wooleyhand resides in Severn with his wife, Debbie, who will soon retire as coordinator for the Pupil Personnel Office with the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

The couple are the parents of Lucas, 22, a student at the University of Baltimore, and Lillian, 20, who attends Anne Arundel Community College.

In his spare time, Wooleyhand participates in 5K marathons with his wife and rides his chopper motorcycle.

Wooleyhand also facilitates the Twitter chat Maryland Elementary School Chat — #mdeschat — and writes the blog “Common Sense School Leadership.”

He said social media allows educators to connect and share new ideas and best practices on making instruction and learning a better experience for students.

Wooleyhand hopes to work with teachers to revamp Pershing Hills’s Twitter page.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “Fort Meade is a unique setting, and I’m excited about the change and learning what the challenges are.”

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