By Rehema Ellis, NBC News correspondent
As the principal of a Baltimore middle school she's not just devoted to encouraging 607 students to high academic achievement, she's also created a place of learning that's comfortable and safe.
It all began to unfold three years ago when Baltimore's public schools superintendent gave her the "honor" she says, to open a brand new school called Windsor Mill Middle School and make it her own. Phelps gladly took on the challenge of not just bringing in teachers, staff and academic materials, she became the school's interior designer as well. Together with her staff, Phelps says, she chose everything from the tile on the floor, the color of the walls, even the frabic covering for the library benches and chairs.
"My heart and my handprints are all over this school", Phelps says.
The place has a professional, academic yet, homey feel to it. Why has she been so attentive to every detail? It's simple, Phelps says. " The kids spend six-and-a-half hours in the school house [five days a week] and a lot of them want to spend more time. It's a safe place for them and they love being here".
This is what every American school house should look like. It's not just clean, it's sparkling with huge windows letting in lots of light. And there are posters, paintings and quotes of inspiration all over the place. Walking around the building I kept thinking how any parent, any where, would be proud to have their child studying at Windsor Mill Middle School. And parents say they're also proud that Debbie Phelps is the principal. They're confident some of her gold medal parenting skills will rub off on their kids.
For her part, at the start of a new school year, Phelps says she's just determined to help school kids the way she helped her son, Michael become a gold medal swimmer.
"I just want to instill in (these kids) the values that were instilled in me as a young kid growing up with my mom and dad and siblings. I'm just very, very adamant about helping students to do their very best".