When driving on Richter Farm Road, the driver’s eye is drawn past the houses to the sprawling building in the midst of the residential homes. Make the left onto Bromfield Road, realize it’s an elementary school — a huge one at that. In the late afternoon, Spark Matsunaga Elementary School will be empty. The school’s 850 students gone. Its teachers and staff dispersed. But one room will be occupied. The office of Principal Judy Brubaker.
She will be beginning the long process of clearing out her things, collecting memories of 15-years in that office. An office and school she helped to plan and design, and build into an award-winning institution of learning. She will be packing because, after 40 years of being an educator, Judy Brubaker is retiring.
Brubaker first got her start in MCPS at Germantown Elementary, she the principal there for eight years and before that, a teacher in multiple other schools and places in and outside of the county. With a background in elementary and special education, she quickly climbed the ropes and was sought out to become not only part of the planning committee for a brand new Spark Matsunaga Elementary, but the principal. She was there in 2001 when the school opened its doors for the first time and has remained as the only principal the school has known for 15 years until this year. “I’ve got to start a new journey,” Brubaker said.
Through the years, Brubaker had seen and been a part of it all. From Broadway Bits, show the fifth graders put on every year, to the Halloween Parade around the blacktop in which every child, clad in their costumes, marched alongside her. “The staff and the community are an extended family for the kids,” Brubaker said.
“She’s caring, dedicated, and not only cares for the kids but the staff as well,” said third-grade teacher Deborah Brown. “That’s a priority for her.” Brown was there right alongside Brubaker when the school doors opened in 2001 and has been teaching at Matsunaga ever since. Even before the elementary school, Brown worked for and with Brubaker at other schools in the county. Brown has worked with Brubaker for 22 out of the 24 years she has been working as a teacher. “She’s a piece of the family,” said Brown.
Brubaker has made her mark in more ways than one. Spark Matsunaga has won a plethora of awards over the years, one of which includes having the most students — 1167 in 2006 — in the county as an elementary school. Individually, Brubaker was named The Washington Post principal of the year in Montgomery County, and recently winning Maryland Music Educators' Association "Outstanding Administrator Award." She has also been honored by the Maryland SoccerPlex, which is just down the road from the school, with a memory stone at the front gates for her. Brubaker credits both her success and that of the school, to her staff. “We put together the best staff, working together for the kids,” said Brubaker. “That is our single focus.”
Like all principals and educators, there are special moments she loves and will miss dearly like the first day of the new school year. “Always the excitement and then the sadness from the last day of school,” Brubaker said, “One at the beginning and the end.” The rest of her favorites have to do with having a connection that comes with having 1000 students. “Hearing about their stories, jokes, knock-knock jokes, adventures, their boo-boos,” she said. “Everything magical there is about being a child.”
Mrs. Brubaker’s students understand how much their principal has invested in them on and know how much she cares because, on Monday, June 13, the kids at Matsunaga Elementary School gathered to honor Mrs. Brubaker. The entire school participated in singing a song called “You’re My Hero” to the beloved principal. Each class, in every grade, had something special prepared for her; a theme married to a characteristic. A special moment that students recall. A gift to remind her of how much she has touched their lives. A small measure of how much of an impact she’s had made on them.
After retirement, Brubaker plans to continue living life to the fullest. “Travel, visit grandkids in Florida, find out what this word called a ‘hobby’ is,” she joked. “Looking for my next adventure, or that’s what they say in Peter Pan.” But Matsunaga will always have a special place in her heart.
She does have this to say to any educator working with kids. “It’s always about the kids and if it’s not, we’re in the wrong profession. That is what always counts.”
The Board of Education has appointed James “Jimmy” Sweeney as Brubaker’s replacement at Matsunaga Elementary. He will take over as just the second principal in the history of the school on July 1, 2016. Sweeney comes to the Germantown school after being principal of Rosemont Elementary School in Gaithersburg.
Top: Judy Brubaker will retire from Spark Matsunaga Elementary come the end of this school year. She was celebrated with a song by all 850-plus of her students. She has been principal of the school since it opened in 2001. Photo courtesy Michelle M. Mach.
Next: Mrs. Brubaker introduced her replacement, James Sweeney at a recent meeting of the Matsunaga Elementary Parent-Teacher Association. Photo courtesy Greg Edmundson.
Next: Video of the students at Matsunaga Elementary singing to their principal, Judy Brubaker as they celebrated her career during Brubaker Day on Monday, June 13.