New Principal Takes Over at Oakwood Elementary
First-year principal Donna Usewick said she has plenty of ideas for the Glen Burnie school.
As a first-year principal, Donna Usewick said she couldn’t have picked a better school than Oakwood Elementary to begin the newest phase of her career.
Her arrival Wednesday came on the heels of the school’s receiving the National School of Character Award from the Character Education Partnership. The school was the only one in Maryland among 50 finalists to be up for the award.
Usewick said she knew right away she was coming into a welcoming environment. She had spent about two weeks before Wednesday meeting staff and some parents. She and counselor Carolyn Hill drove around the neighborhood, which Usewick said was useful to learn about the communities in which her students live.
“I love it. The people are just outstanding,” she said. “I’m amazed. It seems the people are willing to go above and beyond, and I can see that.”
At the same time, Usewick wants to fine-tune Oakwood’s character education program to help make it better, she said. She also wants to address the achievement gap and implement the county’s other priorities, including differentiated instruction.
“My priorities are their priorities,” she said of the county. “But really, my number one priority is to get to know the staff and community as a whole.”
Usewick takes over for former principal Nancy Knouse, who retired in February, and interim principal Robert Kanach. Most recently, she spent the past four years as an assistant principal at Hillsmere Elementary School, the same school she attended as a girl. And she lives in the Hillsmere community.
Usewick said she knew from the time she was doing her graduate work at New York University in the 1980s that she wanted to be a principal. She decided to wait until her son graduated high school before applying, and then the assistant principal spot at Hillsmere had opened up. She went through the interview process last year when Knouse announced her retirement.
At Hillsmere, Usewick said she learned how to create her own style of leadership and said she feels prepared for the challenges ahead at Oakwood.
“Donna was a huge asset at Hillsmere,” Hillsmere principal Mary Wagner said. “She has a high organizational ability. Her knowledge of special education is outstanding. She knows what good teaching is like. Oakwood Elementary will be delighted with her.”
And the staff seems to have welcomed her already.
“We’re so excited. She brings wonderful experience, and we’re so excited to have her here,” Hill said.
And Usewick thought of projects even as she walked the grounds Wednesday. An avid gardener, she wants to improve the landscaping in front of the school by creating a community garden with children helping with the planting and maintenance and businesses donating materials.
“I have a lot to offer,” she said.