When Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke on stage at Ketcham Elementary School at 15th Street and Good Hope Road SE last month, for a rally to support a citywide effort focusing on daily attendance, Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger sat unassumingly in the front row, flanked by her students and faculty.
Following introductory remarks Mayor Bowser pivoted her focus. “When we have a high-energy person with great expectations for their kids is when we see the type of achievement gains that we see in your school,” Bowser said. “And I get to recognize that outstanding principal, and this year it’s your principal who is going to be Principal of the Year!”
After the auditorium erupted in continued applause, Riddlesprigger took the stage to convey her surprise and share in the recognition. “None of this work we’ve done at this school would be possible without all of the staff here today,” she said, expressly acknowledging teachers, administrators, custodians, instructional coaches, instructional aides, mental health team members and school operations.
“All of those people are working every day to make sure you are learning, and to make sure you are happy and love and enjoy your school,” Riddlesprigger said, addressing her students. “I know we are here for Principal of the Year, but I want you to know we have a Staff of the Year that has worked so hard.”
Community Pride at Ketcham
With Ketcham located around the corner from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the announcement of the accolade brought a sense of gratification. A generation of adults of Old Anacostia fondly recall their years attending Ketcham, openly sharing their memories of Principal Romaine Thomas, including her comforting the school in the wake of a student and teacher passing in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Upon Thomas’ retirement the community had demanding expectations of the next generation of school leadership, as Ketcham, built in the early 1900s, and named for a one-time District Commissioner, commanded a special place of pride in the neighborhood.
“Principal Riddlesprigger has created an environment where all the children are valued,” says Alan Page, parent of a kindergartner. “She greets many of them as they start their school day, always by first name. As a result, students value themselves and their peers, often holding doors open for one another (and adults) and generally exhibiting a caring, respectful attitude.”
Page lauds Riddlesprigger, a California native and graduate of UCLA, for establishing a school culture in which “all of the students will go on to college” and for instituting practices like “encouraging students to wear college sweatshirts on Friday that reinforce this expectation.”
Echoing remarks by students and other parents, Page praises Riddlesprigger for assembling a “strong team of licensed instructors who have extensive experience educating children from challenging urban environments. They lead with love and expect results. The children rise up to meet those expectations.”
Principal Riddlesprigger in Her Own Words
Last fall Riddlesprigger composed an editorial, “What It Really Means to Be a DCPS Principal,” for the online-based publication The DC Line.
“During my nine years as a DC Public Schools administrator, I have seen new initiatives, senior-leadership changes, curriculum adoptions, shifting goals and implementation of various plans,” Riddlesprigger wrote, alluding to the internal demands of a school system looked to as a national model for innovation in K-12 education. “The one thing that has remained constant is the amount of love and dedication that school principals, and district and city leaders, pour into our schools and our communities.”
Riddlesprigger, well-respected inside and outside the school walls, offers data points to confirm Ketcham’s success.
“Since 2015, the number of Ketcham students proficient in math has nearly tripled and the number of students proficient in English language arts has doubled on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC),” she revealed.
According to test scores, the number of students scoring a 1 or 2 (out of a possible 5) on PARCC decreased by 40 percent in math and 17 percent in reading. Due to steady gains in test scores, the math proficiency rates at Ketcham are now similar to more affluent schools. Ketcham is ranked 25th among all public and public charter elementary schools citywide with respect to collective math scores, only surpassed by schools within the Capitol Hill Cluster or schools west of Rock Creek Park.
Additionally, during Riddlesprigger’s tenure, Ketcham has been recognized by EmpowerK12, a school support organization advocating data-driven best practices, as a Bold Performance and Improvement School for exceeding annual growth and performance expectations three years in a row.
“These data points illustrate that we at Ketcham are on the path to ensuring more students in our Anacostia community can reach their full potential,” Riddlesprigger shared. “Empower K12 predicts if we continue our current rate of growth and performance, we will be able to close the opportunity gap for our students at a faster rate than expected.”
Praise for Principal Riddlesprigger and Award Ceremony
“Principal Riddlesprigger truly earned the distinction of Principal of the Year – during her tenure as principal thus far, student achievement in math and English language arts have been on the rise, student satisfaction rates have increased, and Ketcham welcomed infants and toddlers to their school this year, expanding their success to include the youngest learners in their community,” interim Chief of Elementary Schools Angela Chapman told East of the River.
“Principal Riddlesprigger, and all of this year’s honorees, are not only invested in their schools, but their communities,” said DC Public Schools interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander. “Improving our schools is disciplined work – it’s about knowing each student by name, having rigorous cycles of data analysis and informally observing teachers on a regular basis to provide feedback that strengthens instruction. There are no silver bullets for this work and I appreciate every member of the DCPS community for their commitment to our vision of every student feeling loved, challenged and prepared to positively influence society and thrive in life.”
Principal Riddlesprigger will be recognized, along with other DC Public Schools awardees, at Standing Ovation 2019 on Feb. 7 at The Anthem on the Southwest Waterfront Wharf.