No mere observer

Published 1:14 am Wednesday, July 19, 2017

At Western Branch Primary School, just under 700 students from pre-kindergarten to second grade receive care and guidance from dedicated staff. Bruins both young and old are looked after by their principal, the “Mama Bear” on campus, said Western Branch Primary principal Gayle Bartlett.

“This is your house, and this is your family,” Bartlett said. “These are the people you take care of.”

Bartlett has been principal at Western Branch Primary since 2010. She has been involved with the school for 22 years, including when her children Matthew and Abbie attended the school and her own 16 years as a faculty member.

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Her career as an educator in Hampton Roads is 37 years long and counting. She began as a reading teacher at Portsmouth’s William E. Waters Middle School in 1977, and continued as a Title 1 reading teacher for years at several Portsmouth schools.

Gayle Bartlett has been involved with Western Branch Primary School for 22 years and has served as the school’s principal since 2010. Both of her children attended the school.

She described herself as a product of her years in Portsmouth Public Schools.

“I’m very, very proud of my years in Portsmouth,” Bartlett said. “I think those were the years that shaped me into the educator I am today.”

Her responsibilities as principal keep her involved in every aspect of school operations each day, as she coordinates with assistant principal Kim Saunders, teachers and bus drivers.

She said it requires a wide field of vision for any issue and flexibility for immediate response, while at the same time building relationships with each teacher and student.

“The passion that she has every day here at school for students and learning is remarkable,” Saunders said. “She treats each child in this building like her own.”

Bartlett walks through the halls of her school, greeting students and asking them how their days are going. She’s known to come into classrooms and teach lessons personally.

“She never just observes,” said second grade teacher Angela Napier. “She can’t help herself.”

Napier has seen the standards for literacy at the school rise during the four years she’s worked at the school under Bartlett. The principal worked to provide staff with the materials and training to better teach students.

“We rose to the occasion, and she supported us in all those areas,” Napier said.

Bartlett worked with the PTA to fundraise for and supply each classroom in the school with smartboards. Her relationships with parents have helped keep the school updated with the latest technology.

“We want to make sure we provide the best possible beginning for our students in the community,” Bartlett said.

Chesapeake superintendent James Roberts announced on May 22 that Western Branch Primary will add full-day kindergarten classes this fall. The school will be one of 10 in the city to offer such classes.

Bartlett said this will alleviate hardship for many working parents in the community and help the students grow.

“It will enable us to give them a more well-rounded program,” she said.

She wants the school to be the heart of the Western Branch community that she’s been a resident of since 1986.

“I’m just blessed to be a part of it,” she said.