Barranger back at Washington Grove as principal

Former teacher takes on top post at diverse elementary school

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006

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David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
New Washington Grove Principal Susan Barranger in front of the school’s Pumpkin Day mural. Pumpkin Day is a tradition Barranger started at the school while a teacher there from 1995 to 2000.

New principal Susan Barranger is a familiar face to Washington Grove Elementary.

The 54-year-old, who started her position this summer, was a former teacher at the nearly 400-student school for six years.

She plans to draw from that experience, in addition to her 33-year education career, to maintain successful signature programs and to keep parents involved in a critical period of their children’s education, she said.

Washington Grove, one of the county’s most diverse elementary schools, is made up of nearly 80 percent minority students, with increasingly large pockets of Hispanic and African families.

Recognizing that diversity, and building programs that address it, is key, she said.

‘‘Many times a school approaches issues, approaches families with a very middle-America perspective, and then we wonder why parents aren’t involved or our children don’t respond how we expect them to,” said Barranger, who speaks some Spanish. ‘‘That is not representative of whether parents care or children care. We simply need to search for ways to widen that vision.”

Barranger, former principal at the diverse Highland View Elementary in Silver Spring, plans to tackle the issue with two school-wide workshops this year. The at-night programs will invite parents and students to grow more comfortable with the classroom while focusing on learning educational tools, like math games, together, she said.

Tracy Zeigfinger, last year’s PTA vice president of Washington Grove, said parents want Barranger to strike a balance in addressing the most pressing academic issues. In addition to classes that reach out to the needy, Zeigfinger wants the school to ramp up gifted classes for learners who want to get ahead.

‘‘It’s a delicate balance because there is a mix of children at different academic levels. But it would be nice to see some changes that more aggressively address accelerated programs,” Zeigfinger said, adding that Barranger’s former experience at the school gives her an edge. ‘‘She’s coming in with an understanding of the populations here, which will be helpful.”

Barranger replaces popular and well-respected former principal Kathy Brake, who accepted a position as director of school performance for area clusters.

During Brake’s 15-year tenure, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes reached high achievement levels and standardized tests scores increased.

During Barranger’s transition this year, she says, she wants to maintain that success and evaluate what programs could build onto it.

She also plans to have monthly meetings with parent groups in informal sessions, such as a parent’s home.

‘‘Unless you [build relationships] first with the staff, the students and the families, all of the efforts we put into our workdays won’t guarantee success,” she said.

The mother of two said she ‘‘fell into” administration while working with Brake earlier in her career. Brake urged her to take on more principal-type duties.

Now, after five years of principal internships and jobs, plus additional education, Barranger is back at Washington Grove.

‘‘It feels very natural here,” said Barranger, who lives in Laytonsville. ‘‘I appreciate the richness of the diversity.”