Principal Debra Calvert’s passion to be the best for children is infectious. Calvert, who is principal at William A. Diggs Elementary School, spreads this passion among her team each day. Her work ethic, coupled with her desire to do her best for students, is why Calvert was named the 2021 Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) Principal of the Year and finalist in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year program.
Calvert knew her team had nominated her for recognition in prior years but did not realize she was nominated this year. Calvert was surprised last week by Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Hill of her selection as principal of the year. “It was definitely a surprise. It is an overwhelming feeling because I love what I do. This is a very humbling experience and I am honored,” Calvert said.
Calvert has spent her entire career with CCPS and first joined the school system as a middle school language arts teacher. She played school as a child with her siblings and friends. Her desire to teach children a love of reading and writing – Calvert’s favorite subjects – led her to pursue a career in education.
Calvert has been the principal at Diggs since 2016 and previously led Dr. James Craik Elementary School as principal for two years. She is well known among her elementary school colleagues as a role-model administrator who exemplifies excellence in education. Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School Principal Nicholas Adam worked with Calvert as a vice principal and wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of her nomination.
Adam said it was Calvert who inspired him to pursue a principalship. “Any successful school always begins with outstanding leadership. Diggs is one of those successful schools because of Debbie Calvert’s leadership. Her tireless dedication and care for her school, staff and students is inspiring,” Adam wrote in a nomination letter.
Calvert is a visible leader in the school and leads by example. She is in classrooms observing instruction, talking with students and teachers in the hallways, in the cafeteria during lunch and on the playground during recess. She shares fun and engaging activities with her staff for use in the classroom with students and models instructional strategies.
Calvert supports teamwork and empowers teachers to share their skills and talents with their colleagues. Teachers at Diggs know Calvert is committed to their success in the profession. “Not only is she approachable and willing to help with any questions or concerns that may arise, you truly have the sense that she ‘has your back,’” Jacqueline Stancliff, Diggs fourth-grade teacher, wrote in a nomination statement.
Calvert began her career with the school system in 1989 as a language arts teacher at John Hanson Middle School. From there, she transitioned to also teaching middle school social studies and then high school English at Thomas Stone High School. While she loved being in the classroom with students, Calvert developed a desire to help students on a larger scale.
She took a position as an instructional specialist at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in 2002, where she led staff development for teachers. She planned instruction and coordinated the school improvement plan. Calvert loves to learn and her desire to help other educators be successful was evident. “I enjoy learning about instruction and working with teachers to help them engage their students in learning and achieve success,” Calvert said.
Before Calvert transitioned to the instructional specialist role, she received national recognition for excellence in classroom teaching. In 1999, Calvert was named a recipient of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. The national-level award recognizes educators for excellence but also highlights the future impact they will have in the education field.
She said receiving the Milken Award was a memorable career moment for her. “I have spent my entire career with Charles County Public Schools and have worked with so many wonderful people and excellent role models. Receiving the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award was definitely a highlight of my career,” Calvert said.
It did not take long before Calvert’s talents led her to a position to support students at a countywide level. She served for two years as the coordinator of middle school instruction and led instruction at the middle school level. Ultimately, Calvert missed the personal relationships school-based staff develop with children in schools. This led her to pursue a different administrative route and become a vice principal. Calvert spent six years as a vice principal at Mattawoman Middle School before becoming principal at Craik.
Lisa Wehausen has worked with Calvert at Diggs for the past five years as an instructional specialist. Wehausen describes Calvert as a visionary leader who puts measurable actions in place to support a vision and goal for the school. “One of the things I enjoy most about working with her is that she sees the bigger picture as well as the details. It is a pleasure to work with such a consummate, professional leader who inspires others by ‘knowing, showing and going’ the way,” Wehausen wrote in a nomination statement.
Calvert is now in year seven of her principalship and year 32 in education. She and her husband, Mark, have three sons who graduated from La Plata High School. She credits her husband and family for always supporting her career. “My husband is my foundation. He is my support system and my family are my biggest fans. They have always been there for me and encouraged me in so many ways,” Calvert said. “I truly love what I do each day. Everything about my job is fun. I am able to work with students and staff members every day, building relationships and watching them grow,” Calvert said.
Calvert has a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Education in Educational Policy, Planning and Administration, from the University of Maryland.
As Principal of the Year, Calvert will be honored by the Board of Education later this year. Calvert was also the finalist from Charles County in the Post’s Principal of the Year awards program.