As Madeline Partlow walked out the front door of Colonial Hills Elementary School about a week before school started, she made a mental note to herself: Carve out time to weed the flower beds and make the school yard presentable.

As Madeline Partlow walked out the front door of Colonial Hills Elementary School about a week before school started, she made a mental note to herself: Carve out time to weed the flower beds and make the school yard presentable.

The next day, the new principal was pleasantly surprised to find a neighborhood family hard at work, weeding, trimming and mulching.

As far as she knew, no one had asked the family to help. They just showed up and went to work, doing what needed to be done.

"It just blew me away," said Partlow, a veteran educator who said she is thrilled to be taking over at the small neighborhood elementary school.

"At this point in my life, this is where I want to be," she said as she made last-minute preparations for opening day.

Partlow's career has been mostly in the Gahanna and New Albany school districts, where she has been a teacher, elementary and middle school principal and central-office administrator.

Last school year, she was principal of New Albany's large, community-wide elementary school, which serves grades 2-5.

She had requested a return to a school building after serving as the district's director of teaching and learning but found the building too large to create the kind of school she prefers.

"My style is to have relationships with students and teachers and families," she said.

Partlow knew Randy Banks, Worthington's personnel director, from when they both worked in Gahanna. When he called last spring to ask her to interview for the Colonial Hills principal opening, she thought it might be a good fit for her.

After interviewing with administrators, teachers and parents, she was convinced.

"I sensed they had something very special here; it pulled at my heart," she said.

Since beginning work at Colonial Hills in July, she has been even more impressed with the district leaders and the school staff, who have been supportive and have shown how enthusiastic and dedicated they are to student growth, she said.

"Everybody is all about kids," she said.

Partlow said she knows she has work to do. The school has seen a drop in test scores and needs to show improvement. Although she has not seen final report card scores yet, preliminary reports indicate the school has shown significant growth this year.

"It is not a perfect picture yet, but we have an engaged, enthusiastic staff looking for ways for all kids to achieve at their highest level," she said.

Besides the committed staff and parents, Partlow is impressed with the school's PTA, the Circle of Grandparents, the service-learning projects and such longstanding programs as gymnastics and musicals, she said.

"It is a very special place to be," she said.