Within minutes at Steuart W. Weller Elementary School, the adoration Principal Janet Platenberg holds among the school’s teachers, students and parents is made clear.
On a recent morning, she cleared her schedule to meet with a teacher, then later a parent of a future Weller student. Then she strolled down the hallway to accept a few hugs and hellos from students, before sitting down with fifth-graders to hear their progress on one of their trickier school assignments.
Plantenberg has been named the 2013 winner of The Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership Award and Loudoun County’s Principal of the Year.
Her ability to connect with individuals at every level of the school community—from her staff to students to parents—is the most repeated sentiment in the nomination letters submitted by those who know her best.
“She always keeps us safe, she hires the best teachers and she makes our school year a ton of fun,” fifth-grade student Joshua wrote of his principal. “She makes sure we get the best education we need, and basically is the best principal in the whole universe.”
When Platenberg opened Weller as its principal in 2008, she said she and her leadership team wanted the brand-new school to reflect its surrounding neighborhoods in Ashburn.
“We had this expectation that we were going to embrace the community, and embrace everything that our community offered to us,” she said. “That’s what helped us accomplish a lot of this.”
Under her leadership, Weller has become one of the county’s leaders in tech-savvy lesson plans. She piloted a videoconferencing program that allows her students to share ideas and classroom projects with other students around the world. She’s also encouraged Weller Elementary teachers to use Xbox LIVE to enhance almost every one of their subjects. For example, an Xbox LIVE program called Avatar Connect shows the student as an animated avatar. The students read aloud, and the program’s two virtual judges offer positive reviews and tips on how the student can improve. Her efforts to enhance education with technology were recognized last year by the National School Board Association, which named her one of the “20 to Watch.”
“I really do feel that we owe it to [students] to bring those tools to their hands, and also to open up new experiences beyond the classroom doors,” Platenberg said.
Platenberg also gained recognition last September when she spearheaded the first TEDx Ashburn event, bringing community and school leaders together to share best practices in technology and education.
In her nomination letter for Platenberg, Adina Popa, technology resource teacher at Weller, said her principal encourages teachers to explore new technologies and grow in their abilities in the classroom. “The most important thing I would like to mention, though, is that she never forgets what it is all about,” Popa added. “Students’ success is at the core of her actions, and that reflects in everything we do as well.”
Platenberg is quick to deflect any recognition for the successes at Weller to the teachers and the rest of the school community.
“I see it as a huge orchestra coming together all at once,” she said. “The sense that I get from everybody is they have ownership and they take great pride knowing they were a part of something great.”
Platenberg has worked 23 years in education; she taught third, fourth and fifth grade in Maryland before becoming a school administrator. She came to Loudoun County in 1996 as assistant principal of Lowes Island Elementary School in Sterling, and then served as principal of Potowmack Elementary School, also in Sterling.
Together, she and her husband Jeff have seven children. Platenberg said, as she watched her children grow and succeed through middle and high school, she thought she might be interested in working with older students, “but my heart is still most definitely at the elementary school. If you can get a child off to a good start, that is the best gift you can give to them.”
Watch a video produced by LCPS-TV on Principal Platenberg at http://vimeo.com/63834735.