Washington Post Awards Honor QO Principal, Wheaton Woods Teacher
Elizabeth “Beth” Thomas, principal at Quince Orchard High School, is the MCPS finalist for The Washington Post Principal of the Year. Catherine “Cay” Miller, ESOL teacher at Wheaton Woods Elementary School, has been named a finalist for The Washington Post Teacher of the Year.
Elizabeth “Beth” Thomas
In her second year as principal at Quince Orchard, Thomas is everywhere. She pops into Zoom classes all the time. Pre-COVID, she rolled around the hallways and classrooms with her mobile desk. She supports students, teachers, parents, coaches, teams and clubs, attending almost every sporting event, musical performance, theater production and art show. She is a genuine, charismatic advocate and a change agent.
In her first year, she created student feedback committees, which solicited input from every grade. Students discussed what they liked and disliked about instruction and learning strategies, some of which resulted in changes in the classroom. “As a student, it is extremely important to know that someone is listening,” one said. “Mrs. Thomas’ engagement and consideration in our words empowered the student body, and gave us a voice to create change. Not just in school, but in all aspects of life.”
Two years ago, the school created a wellness committee. This committee has increased awareness of mental health, created wellness spaces in the school and opened opportunities to improve wellness—with yoga, Tea on Tuesdays and therapy dog visits—for students and staff. She showcases and celebrates Quince Orchard on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Last summer, Thomas worked with the school’s athletic director to create the Quince Orchard Hall of Fame. She also created the Cougars Care for Our Community Fund during the pandemic, which contributed more than $4,000 in grocery gift cards for families in need.
She is deeply committed to professional growth and development. She consistently seeks ways to enhance her practices, and staff frequently discuss best practices that make a difference for students. She incorporates equity, data and professional learning into weekly leadership team meetings. She helped create the Media and Communication career pathway for students within Advanced Placement Signature Programs, even reaching out to central office to help guide its implementation.
She holds a bachelor’s of science, health and physical education from Radford University, and a master’s of science in administration and supervision from Johns Hopkins University.
Catherine “Cay” Miller
Miller is everything a teacher is supposed to be—a tireless advocate for students, a knowledgeable classroom instructor, a supportive colleague and a respected leader. She has been teaching at Wheaton Woods, a Title I school, since 2009.
Her impact can be seen in test scores. In 2015, only 5.4 percent of English learners in the third grade met the state testing proficiency standards in English language arts; by 2019, that percentage improved to 26.3 percent proficiency. In 2015, 32.5 percent of English learners in the third grade met the state proficiency standards in math; by 2019, that number grew to 52.4 percent.
Known for thorough planning, building strong relationships with students, and fostering self-esteem, Miller recognizes that ESOL students are often underrepresented in extracurricular activities, so she creates opportunities for them to thrive outside of the classroom, such as Field Hockey Club and Wildcat TV, a weekly news show. A fluent Spanish speaker, she also uses translanguaging, a relatively new teaching method for multilingual speakers to communicate verbally or in written form using any of their languages.
She is very well-versed in technology, and has shared that expertise with her students. Her students recite their writing and listen to others reading on Seesaw; they play interactive language games on a Promethean Board; and learn from screencasts loaded with visuals.
A National Board Certified teacher, Miller began her career in 2008 as an ESOL and Multidisciplinary Educational Training and Supports (METS) program teacher at Julius West Middle School. Since 2010, she has been the varsity field hockey coach at Winston Churchill High School, making the state playoffs for four seasons (pre-COVID). She brings many of her players to Wheaton Woods in the afternoons to run a field hockey club.
She has served as co-chair of the school’s Equity Committee; has served on the school leadership team for a decade; has volunteered with the Children’s Opportunity Fund to review proposals to benefit children’s literacy development; and co-facilitates the Student Speaker Series with the Minority Scholars Program to elevate student voices and perspective among school staff.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Haverford (Penn.) College and a master’s in education from George Washington University.
The Washington Post announced the winners and finalists of the 2021 Teacher and Principal of the Year Awards on April 26. Each year, The Post presents these awards to encourage excellence in school leadership and contribute to the improvement of education in the Washington metropolitan area. The full list is available here.