Summit’s Mele-McCarthy Wins Prestigious Washington Post Education Award
The Summit School’s Head of School, Dr. Joan A. Mele-McCarthy was named one of the Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leaders at a ceremony in Washington last week. In all, 21 awardees were selected from school systems in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The Post selects only one private school from the Washington metropolitan area.
Mele-McCarthy said that that banquet was a wonderful, uplifting event.
“There were leaders from each of the metropolitan areas. I represented private schools in the area,” she said.
Nearly a dozen letters of support were submitted on Mele-McCarthy’s behalf from Summit parents, alumni parents, members of the Summit School Board of Directors, faculty, and nationally-renowned colleagues.
The Summit School has been operating since 1991. Mele-McCarthy said that she was aware of and involved in Summit from the beginning, but only signed on as Head of School seven years ago.
She said that throughout the evening celebration, she heard so many stories from the other nominees. The organizers from the Washington Post Education Foundation found stories about each of the 21 awardees and as each person was brought to the front to be given their award, they spent time talking about each person—highlighting their accomplishments and shining a light on their approach to education.
“You’d think it would be tedious, but it wasn’t. It was very rewarding.They did it in such a way that it really celebrated us,” she said.
Being an award winner is more than just a one-night banquet in the Washington Post building. Each year the winning administrators are flown to a nice location for a professional retreat. This year that will take place in July at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida.
Mele-McCarthy gets to take one person, and she is taking her husband.
At the retreat, the awardees will talk about crisis management and social media. The retreat is as much about the important guest speakers and lectures as it is about networking, interaction and learning from one another.
“I’m excited to take back ideas,” she said.
Mele-McCarthy got to read letters from her nomination packet. he was happy to learn that parents felt that her sense of humor is an important part of her leadership style. She said that she was happy to hear that she had struck the kind of balance that she was striving for with students and parents.
“They said that I not only had the academic knowledge, but also understood them on a human level. What I really appreciated was that compassionate human side was recognized. That I can get down with a child and relate. Sometimes you have to help them understand that you have their back.You support them. Then you can problem solve, move forward and be successful,” Mele-McCarthy said.
Elizabeth Crabree, a Summit parent and member of the Board of Directors said, “[e]very day Dr. McCarthy demonstrates leadership and exemplifies commitment. She leads by example with thorough preparation and a positive attitude. Her commitment to The Summit School and the children is unmistakable.”
Mele-McCarthy said that when you work in a small, independent school environment, you have to wear a lot of hats. She said that some of her day-to-day tasks might include: hiring, supervision of staff and students, budgetary oversight, innovation, management, curriculum development and professional development.
That is an exhausting list. But she said that as a leader, it is her job to keep several balls in the air at once.
Mele-McCarthy said that one of the most exciting aspects of her job is seeing children who were struggling come to Summit and find a way to learn. She said she likes hearing children say, “before I came to Summit, I thought I was stupid. Now I understand that I learn differently.”
Mele-McCarthy lives in Calvert County with her husband. She has two grown children, a son who is an engineer at Calvert Cliffs and a daughter who just graduated from the University of Minnesota.
Prior to her work as head of school at Summit, Mele-McCarthy worked in the U.S. Department of Education.
She previously earned the Rolland J. Van Hattum Award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation for her significant contributions to schools in the field of speech language pathology and literacy. She was recently selected for Leadership Maryland’s 20th Anniversary Class.