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What's Up Magazine

Patricia Ray Nalley

Mar 16, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous

Governor Martin O’Malley appointed her to a five-year term and the eight other board members subsequently elected her vice president.


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“Patti is one of the most dedicated and caring professionals I have ever come in contact with,” says Anne Arundel County Councilwoman Tricia Johnson, “and she’s proven to be the same dedicated professional in her school board role. There is so much to read, analyze, understand, and digest—and Patti does her homework.”

Raised in the South, Nalley earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Mississippi and began her career teaching second grade in Pensacola, Florida. This was the start of a journey that has yet to end—one that has enriched her life each day through her steadfast commitment to improving the lives of others, especially children. Challenged with preparing a group of disadvantaged children for the future and a trailer for a classroom, Nalley nevertheless felt magic from the minute she started teaching. A move to Corpus Christi, Texas, had Nalley teaching youngsters from the low-income Hispanic community. They lived only a mile from Corpus Christi Bay but had never been there. She not only took the class on outings to the bay but also invited them to her home for picnics.

Each new experience further enhanced her appreciation for diversity and adversity, and her desire to open children’s eyes to the world around them. “I always felt that teaching was my calling in life, and I loved every minute of it,” she says.

Nalley and her first husband, a Naval Academy graduate, moved to Anne Arundel County in 1969. For the next 16 years, while raising a family and earning a master’s degree from George Washington University, she taught in county public elementary schools under the leadership of now-retired principal Mary Ellen Street. Street says Nalley had a positive influence on the children and was also a terrific role model for her colleagues: “She did whatever it took to have children progress and kept abreast of new teaching methods. And if a child was tempted to do something that might require disciplinary action, Patti handled the situation in a way that helped them think through their actions, realize the consequences—and she’d then suggest better alternatives.” Nalley also had an approach with other faculty members that inspired and encouraged them to do their best, Street explains.

Though apprehensive about leaving the classroom, Nalley felt she could also be an effective administrator. Upon fulfilling all state-mandated requirements for administrator certification, she became Broadneck Elementary School’s assistant principal, a position she held for two years. She then spent a year at Van Bokkelen Elementary, which proved to be a pivotal point in her career. Leading a school in a high-crime area opened her eyes to the extreme diversity that exists within the county. Yet she loved it, was drawn to it, and knew she was needed there.

From 1998 until 2007, Nalley was principal of Davidsonville Elementary School. With enrollment shy of the number needed to qualify for an assistant principal, she reached out to the community—enlisting volunteers, getting parents more involved, and establishing business partnerships. She made sure that her teaching faculty had what they needed in order to promote a learning environment in which all students had every opportunity to achieve personal excellence. Programs to help children gain a better understanding of those less fortunate were introduced.

Tricia Johnson, who was Davidsonville’s PTA president for much of Nalley’s tenure, recalls their first meeting: “We were allies from that day forward.” While initiating a new recess monitor program, Johnson was at the school every day, and she later worked with Nalley on other projects. “The consistent aspect of Patti’s work ethic was listening to all sides,” explains Johnson. “She was compassionate with the children, patient and understanding with the parents, a mentor to the teachers, and worked well with the community.”

As enrollment increased and space grew tight, the push to secure funding for a much-needed new school facility began. With the community behind her, Nalley gathered her troops—architects, PTA reps, school personnel—to work with the school system at the state and local levels, and saw to it that all were on the same page to ensure an effective case was presented. Nalley and Johnson—who would later serve two years as county school board president—worked hand in hand, sometimes late into the night, and ultimately convinced the school board of the benefits of funding the project.

The fall of 2002 marked the opening of a brand-new Davidsonville Elementary School, which, under Nalley’s leadership, was consistently recognized for excellence—for high academic achievement, highly qualified teachers, community service programs, and incorporating environmental education into the curriculum.

When first introduced to Nalley, Kevin Maxwell, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), says he was immediately struck by her passion and dedication to children: “As a parent, grandparent, and educator, Patti is able to see issues through a variety of lenses, and the breadth of her experiences is a real asset to our board. For example, when discussing renovation projects, she can speak with great credibility to issues that have come up in past projects with which she has been involved—and that input can make the difference between a good project and a great one.”

Nalley’s position on the school board enables her to advocate on behalf of the county’s public schools, drawing on her knowledge of policy and financial decision-making. She also represents the school board in various volunteer capacities, such as her roles on the Strategic Planning Committee of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and on the board of Scholarships for Scholars, which rewards exceptional county high school students.

Outside the school board, Nalley is affiliated with several educational organizations and is a strong supporter of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among other local causes. She’s also actively involved with the Annapolis chapter of Delta Gamma, Severn Town Club, and South Anne Arundel County Rotary Club—particularly its Dictionary Project and Literacy Committee. The former donates a dictionary to each South County third grader. To promote writing skills in South County public elementary schools, the Literacy Committee sponsors an annual student essay contest—this year’s topic was volunteerism.

For Nalley, there’s no greater satisfaction than having been able to make a difference in the lives of children. “I’ve loved every job and every aspect of my work,” she says. Beverly G. Pish, Ed.D., Executive Director of AACPS’s Division of Accountability, Assessment, and Research, sums up Nalley with admiration: “Most inspiring is her total dedication to the well-being of children and her pride in having been a teacher. Patti doesn’t just talk the talk; she walks the walk.” And Johnson says, “Patti is tireless. As the saying goes, ask a busy person if you want to get something done. And that defines Patti—always working for the betterment of her community.”