Principal Brady Led by Example at Sugarland


Gail Brady has a simple formula for leadership that she shares often with students and staff.

“Be the type of leader that you would follow. If you don’t want it done to you, don’t do it to anyone else. If they will carry that principle with them throughout their life, our world will be a better place.”

Brady is leaving Sugarland Elementary after serving as its principal for a decade. Her next post will be Winchester’s John Kerr Elementary. She has spent her entire career as an educator in Title I schools (a trend that will continue at John Kerr.)

Creating a culture where students can work beyond any disadvantages their socio-economic status might imply is something Brady is very proud of. “We believe if we close the opportunity gap, the achievement gap will take care of itself. We started providing all these extracurricular activities – and our teachers weren’t being paid to do it.

“Any club you could possibly think of, our kids have it. Normally, their parents wouldn’t be able to pay for that. Our kids are learning robotics; learning how to program robots to do simple tasks. In doing that, it’s making them more aware of what is around them. It’s authentic problem-solving at its best. It’s personalized learning. You see that transfer to what they do in the classroom. You see kids come alive in the classroom.

“I want our kids to never feel like they’re poor kids. When they’re here, they feel as rich as anybody else.”

Among the innovative after-school programs Brady has encouraged is the United States Tennis Association giving girls tennis lessons.

Recently, graduating Dominion High School seniors – in their caps and gowns – walked Sugarland’s halls to show the current student body what is possible. This event had a profound effect on Brady. “Kids who used to be in my office having talks with me, I just started crying. ‘Wow, look at you. You’re finishing high school and going on to do great things.’ It was amazing. Teachers were crying. We all were crying.”

Working through remote learning during the pandemic was the greatest challenge of Brady’s later career at Sugarland. It’s a challenge she said the school’s staff handled well. “I told the teachers when it started, ‘We are going to keep up the level of rigor that we’re used to. The only thing that parents should feel is that we’re not actually in the building.’ I was still having parent conferences. I was still doing observations virtually. We did everything we normally do, we just did it virtually.

“It was amazing that we could keep that level of fidelity up, even though we were not in the building.”

A major reason for Brady’s departure is that John Kerr is a 20-minute commute from her home in the Shenandoah Valley. “When I walked in the door, all I saw were mountains. I said ‘This is it.’ It’s my place of peace.”

Brady said she will miss Sugarland’s sense of community, including its parents. “They’re such a part of our community. Of all the things that I will miss, it’s just the sense of community.”

Brady added she hopes that the community remembers her fondly. “What I want people to remember is that I led with my soul and my heart. You can teach pedagogy. You can teach teachers about data and how to analyze data, but you can’t teach them how to be a good person and how to treat others with kindness, respect and dignity without first modeling that. Remember that she was a kind soul and that’s how she led.”

Published July 1, 2022