Meet Loudoun’s Teacher and Principal of the Year

Meet Loudoun’s Teacher and Principal of the Year
John Champe principal John Gabriel (left) and Stone Bridge teacher Kathleen Thompson won the 2017 Principal and Teacher of the Year Awards. Photo/LCPS.

Each year, Loudoun County Public Schools recognizes a teacher and principal who go above and beyond their job duties to change students’ lives.

This year’s winners are Stone Bridge High School’s Kathleen Thompson for Teacher of the Year and John Champe High School’s John Gabriel for Principal of the Year. The two were recognized before the Loudoun County School Board April 24, and will go on as finalists for the Washington Post’s Outstanding Teacher Award and Principal of the Year Award.

Teacher of the Year – Kathleen Thompson

Working as an English and public speaking teacher at Stone Bridge since its 2000 opening, her fellow educators say Thompson helped craft Stone Bridge’s personality, allowing it to become a cornerstone of the community.

“I think teaching is about relationships. I don’t think you can teach anybody anything until they feel like you care about them, until they buy in. Then, they’re sponges,” Thompson said in a video released by LCPS and presented at the April 24 School Board Meeting.

Stone Bridge Principal Matt Wilburn said in the video, Thompson is well liked by students because of the relationships she builds with them.

“She never talks down to a student. She always treats a student like they’re an adult,” Wilburn said. “She has expectations for them like they’re an adult. A lot of times that’s what’s needed to help a student reach their full potential.”

Thompson said this award does not just belong to her, it also belongs to all of the teachers and students who have supported her along the way. Teaching does not happen in isolation, she said.

“I’ve been a teacher for 31 years and I can’t imagine doing anything else. My entire career has been spent working in Loudoun County,” Thompson said. “Please don’t underestimate the amount of space your children take up in our hearts. We take home so much more than essays and problem sets. We take home their struggles. Their concerns become ours … we revel in their successes as well and their joy brings us joy long past the school day.”

Thompson has led student and faculty activities including cheerleading, Forensic Club, English National Honor Society, Key Club, Student Council Association and the National Honor Society.

In addition to English and public speaking, Thompson works with the school’s Special Education Department and teaches advanced placement classes. Thompson holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Virginia Tech and a master’s in instructional technology from George Mason University. Before opening Stone Bridge, Thompson taught at Park View High School, joining the staff there in 1986.

“You are truly a gift to our community, to our school vision and an outstanding selection for this award and honor,” said Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), whose district includes Stone Bridge. “You pull the best out of every student that you have, and not only your students, but also your colleagues.”

Principal of the Year – John Gabriel

Although administrators at the top can seem inaccessible, Gabriel’s staff and students say that’s not the case at John Champe.

“One of the qualities that most impresses me about John is his ongoing focus on personal, face-to-face interactions as part of his management strategy,” Champe Assistant Principal Sara Genetin-Pilawa wrote in her letter nominating Gabriel for the award. “Despite the fact the school continues to grow, he makes time for people as a means to have the pulse of the building and get feedback from staff members.”

Gabriel has served as Champe’s principal since 2011 when he began a year of planning for the school’s opening. Since then, educators have said Gabriel makes the community feel, seen and heard.  His his meticulous planning also sets him apart from other leaders.

Gabriel in turn thanked his students, LCPS leadership, his staff, the community and parents, who have been supportive since before the school was built. He also said he’s appreciative of all the support he gets from other principals in the county and his family.

“John Champe High School should not just be a place where everyone goes, it’s a place people remember. It’s a shared experience that we have when we’re inside and outside the classroom,” Gabriel said.

Before leading John Champe, Gabriel worked as an assistant principal at Park View High School, the English Department chair at Falls Church High School, as an English teacher at North Stafford High School and as an English teacher at Lodi, N.J., High School. Gabriel holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Mary Washington College and a master’s degree in educational leadership from George Mason University. Gabriel has also written three books on administrating.

“When I asked you if you could handle a few more middle schoolers in your high school, you said ‘We can make it work.’ You can always make it work and you did. It’s a phenomenal job integrating that school and bringing that together and making it work but that’s just a sample of what you do for the children every day,” said School Board Chairman Jeff Morse, whose district includes John Champe.