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When Mary Beth Grove was recently asked how many children she has, her count was a little higher than what might have been expected.

"I said I have 360 kids," the East York Elementary School principal said with a laugh. "Of course, it's kind of a joke, but my students really are my kids, they really are my babies."

Grove, 49, who views the entire East York Elementary School community as her family, was honored this year by the National Association of Elementary School Principals as one of 2015's National Distinguished Principals.

Philosophy: "This award is not about me, it's about we," Grove said. "It's about the culture and the dedication, the love we have for the children."

Grove, who is currently a Spring Grove resident, credited the entire East York Elementary School family โ€” from staff to students to parents โ€” for the recognition.

"They make this building what it is: feisty and passionate," she said. "They're all so driven, and they do whatever it takes to create the positive culture we have. It's our understanding that East York Elementary is the best place on Earth.

"If I'm walking down the hallway and I say to anyone 'East York is' they'll answer with 'the best place on Earth.'"

Though the position of principal is one of authority, Grove said she does not take stock in the fact that she's "the boss."

"The power you have in any position is fleeting. Leadership is about influence," she said. "It's not my job to be the boss of everyone. I am a servant leader. My job is to do anything and everything it takes to support parents and teachers so they can support the children; that is my leadership philosophy."

Part of that, Grove said, is making sure the standards are high.

"The belief is that we have high expectations here," she said. "I have those expectations of myself, of the staff and the children, but we also make sure those standards are reachable, which facilitates a culture of love, support and encouragement."

For Grove, being a successful principal comes down to one important thing, which is "doing anything and everything we can to meet all of our children's needs and always asking what we can do in our instructional practice to help them achieve their maximum potential," she said.

Honored: Grove learned that she was nominated for the recognition last December.

"I was very surprised and excited of course," she said.

After submitting a series of essays and paperwork, Grove was selected as one of the top four nominees in the state.

The selection panel visited the elementary school and interviewed students, staff and administration, and ultimately she was recognized as the best in Pennsylvania.

Grove last month traveled to Washington, D.C., as the Pennsylvania state representative to be recognized and to collaborate with and learn from principals from across the country.

"It was magical," Grove said. "It was a wonderful acknowledgement and celebration. I had the opportunity to give a two-minute speech and I got to talk about my school. We also had work sessions where we discussed best practices and the needs and trends in education nationally."

Grove said all participants had the opportunity to write down their thoughts on note cards, which were then delivered to the U.S. secretary of education, which she described as a "powerful moment."

"Educators in general are just so dedicated and passionate, and really I'm just one of so many," she said. "It really is all about that 'we.'"

โ€” Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.

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