CHARLESTOWN — As Jennifer Poore returned from a trumped-up meeting outside the school, 270 students, teachers, administrators, staff and Poore’s family waited in the gym, hoping she would be surprised by her “2018 Elementary School Principal of the Year” award.
The ruse went off without a hitch. Poore came down the stairs, walked into the gym, and was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I was at a meeting this morning, and all of a sudden, I got a call to come back, they needed me, and it didn’t make any sense,” she said. “I rushed down, and I thought ‘are they doing a drill?’ I was so confused when I saw everyone in the gym. It took me a second, and then I saw my husband. I kind of figured it out then when he stood up and took a photo.”
Poore has been principal at Charlestown Elementary School since 2010. Her first position in the Chariho Regional School District was assistant principal at the middle school, and, later, assistant principal at Richmond Elementary School. Charlestown Elementary has been a consistently high-performing school, one of only six schools in the state to be recognized as “commended” by the Rhode Island Department of Education for three years in a row.
Donald Rebello, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, said the awards had been presented for 20 years and included principals from elementary to high school. The association began soliciting nominations in January, and members of the selection committee visited the school to speak with teachers, staff and students.
“We have a selection committee that reviews the criteria for the award, which basically involve superb, exceptional leadership skills, the ability to move schools forward, not only with respect to some of the state criteria for identifying excellent schools like test scores, but also the testimony of staff members and supervisors who can testify to the fact that a principal has established a very meaningful school culture, and Jennifer has fit the bill superbly,” he said.
Reading Specialist Tammy Lyons was among the staff members who met with the committee.
“We gave our professional opinion in terms of Jen’s performance here, which is top-notch,” she said. “She’s not just a creator, she’s a doer. She supports all of us.”
Also on hand to congratulate Poore were fellow Chariho administrators, who described her as a humble and compassionate leader.
Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie said he was beginning to notice Poore’s former students as they entered the high school.
“It’s kind of interesting, when I think about the kids who leave the elementary school, being at Chariho as an administrator for six years now, I’m starting to see those kids trickle into the high school and they’re some of our very best,” he said.
Jeff Scanapieco, the Principal at Ashaway Elementary School, described Poore as a supportive colleague.
“She’s a great friend, and her heart is truly in it,” he said. “She loves the students. She loves education.”
Middle School Principal Gregory Zenion, a past recipient of the award, said Poore deserved the recognition.
“She does a great job and it is a very difficult job, so to be recognized by the association is huge,” he said.
“There’s no one better to deserve this award than Jen Poore,” Hope Valley Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli added. “She’s an instructional leader, she’s just a phenomenal administrator that we all look up to.”
Richmond Elementary Principal Sharon Martin credited Poore with creating a nurturing environment for teachers as well as students.
“The thing that I admire about her the most, she has such high standards for herself as a principal and for her teachers and her students, but she also knows the value of having fun, and she makes coming to school a fun experience for everyone,” she said.
Representing the Chariho School Committee were Donna Chambers and Craig Louzon.
“It’s so nice to have a great principal recognized statewide in this special way,” Chambers said.
“I’ve always been impressed with the lady,” Louzon added.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci, who wrote Poore’s nomination letter, was the first to congratulate her when she walked into the gym.
“She is the epitome of what it means to be a strong and exceptional school leader,” he said. “She cares about the children she serves, she cares about the community, and she understands what makes a good school great.”