Those of us old enough to recall when the principal’s office was seen as a dark, forbidding place may be surprised to get a peek at Mary Rash’s. The new Pulaski Middle School principal’s office houses a stuffed blue dragon, books like “The Quality School” and a wooden plaque that bears the humble legend, “Want the last word? Apologize.”
Rash stepped in as PMS principal after Theresa Reed, its former head, departed for the Roanoke school system. Formerly an assistant principal at Pulaski County High School, Rash doesn’t show any sign of being intimidated by her new responsibilities. “I felt well-prepared to come in and do this because of the years of experience that I’ve had,” she says.
Her experience was long-won. Born and raised in Pulaski County, Rash graduated from PCHS, got a B.S. in Math Education at Radford College, and taught eighth grade math and algebra for 19 years and Dublin Middle School. In 2000, she moved to PCHS to teach algebra and went back to Radford University for an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Leadership. In 2006, she became assistant principal at PCHS and stayed in the position until this year.
“As assistant principal, you’re helping the principal,” says Rash of the two positions. “As the principal, the leadership is on my shoulders. It is my goal to model leadership and let the students and faculty and community know that education is important. I’m here to prepare students for high school and life beyond high school.”
She has a real feel for youth going through trying times, it seems. “Even though I was working with all grade levels,” she says of her former job at PCHS, “I had a particular love of helping the ninth grade.” She mentioned how nervous incoming freshmen can be in an unfamiliar environment.
While she could almost be compared to one herself now, having never held this position before, she has positive things to say about PMS’s faculty and staff, who she says have been helpful to her during her transition. “Mr. Atwood has been just wonderful in particular,” she notes of Bill Atwood, her assistant principal.
She feels that she faces two challenges in particular as principal. “School safety,” she says bluntly, addressing the first. “That’s on the minds of everyone. We’re always looking for ways to make our school safer. I want to say I’m thankful for the availability of the SRO.” The other challenge is “high-stakes testing. When we do well at preparing our students, then we will do well on the SOLs.”
She has no plans to hide behind her desk when it comes to facing these or any other potential obstacles. “I’m very hands on and try to connect with students and parents, and I feel that being a lifelong resident of Pulaski County helps with that,” Rash says. She says she likes to connect with people through their hobbies and interests. “If I make that respect and connection, we can talk about anything.” She also likes to keep in touch with the academic community by attending as many school functions as possible.
On her philosophy towards discipline, she offers, “We all make mistakes. We need to learn from those mistakes. We move on and they teach us. I like to focus on the positive aspects. We always keep in mind what the best interests of the students are.”
Among hot topics in academia is the dearth of encouragement and opportunities for girls in math and the sciences, but Rash doesn’t think Pulaski Middle School is having a difficult time in that area. “I feel like we do a good job with that already, for both genders to have equal opportunity. However, any chance I get to encourage math and science, I will take,” she says. “Those opportunities are out there, so we have to keep putting them in front of kids so they can find what their match is.”
Though friendly and eager to answer questions, when the time comes, Rash makes it clear that she has to get back to work. She does, however, have one last thing to add. “I believe in connecting with everyone in the community, all the stakeholders, whether they have children or not,” she says. “I want the school to be represented in the community in a positive light in every aspect.”