Profiles: A school homecoming
8/29/2014 11:38:17 AM
By Treva Lind
September will mark a full-circle homecoming for Lindsay Ehlers, who starts this school year as Greenacres Elementary's new principal.
Nearly 30 years ago, Ehlers walked through the doors of the school for the first time as a third-grader. This month, she takes over as Greenacres' top administrator, following the retirement of Susan Rasmussen.
"I'm homegrown," said Ehlers, 37. "There (are) some old pictures of me around here, and it makes me laugh, like ‘Fit for Bloomsday' pictures. One of my teachers still works here, Jill Moll. I call her Mrs. Moll constantly. It's hard for me to call her Jill, and we laugh about it."
Ehlers takes the school's helm after working 10 years as a teacher at Liberty Lake Elementary, followed by three years as assistant principal at Greenacres.
"Greenacres Elementary School is a really good place to be," Ehlers said. "We have an amazing school culture with a focus on meeting students' needs first. We have a highly collaborative team - secretaries, cooks, teachers, custodians, supervisory assistants, everyone. For me to step in this position, when there's already this culture set up, is an amazing opportunity for me."
Born in Spokane, Ehlers first lived in Spokane Valley until second grade, when her family moved to the Alpine Shores neighborhood in Liberty Lake, where her home remained. Today, Ehlers still lives in Liberty Lake. Her sons both will be at LLES next year: Matthew in first grade and Nicholas in fourth grade.
"They keep me busy," she said. "Both of my parents live in Liberty Lake, Stan and Carol Schultz. I remember when there was one stoplight and one gas station, and that was it. It's been really fun to watch the community grow. It's the only place I would raise my kids."
At Liberty Lake Elementary, she taught grades second, third, fourth and sixth, when sixth grade was still in the elementary school during 2001-02.
"I loved being a teacher," Ehlers said. "My favorite place to be is still in a classroom. That's where all the good things happen."
When asked to describe herself, Ehlers said, "I love to have fun. … I love to come to work every day because what we do here in school is fun. I try to be a good mix of happy and friendly and outgoing while continuing to be motivated personally and motivating for my staff."
Ehlers also remembers loving school as a kid, despite being shy early in her life. She admits that many people who know her today wouldn't think she was ever reserved. She said her first teacher at Greenacres, Lynda Zachrison, helped draw her out.
"She really made me feel comfortable in my new school and always tried to bring out the very best in everyone," Ehlers said. "I remember her being so positive, and that she really cared about me. That was really important to me at the time."
Ehlers' love for learning pulled her toward education as a career. Retired LLES principal Linda Uphus said that Ehlers brought a strong work ethic and tenacity to embrace and share new concepts. Ehlers completed her principal internship at LLES under Uphus.
Uphus, who retired in 2011, has known Ehlers since she was a child.
"She's just a blast," Uphus said. "She's a fun person to be around, but more than that, I was in education for 36 years, and I don't think I've worked with anyone who has the work ethic she has. She has the understanding and knowledge of curriculum and what children need to know to go on to be successful."
Uphus explained that Ehlers has taught in most elementary grade levels, and she has taken initiative to know the scope and sequence of concepts kids must grasp each step of the way.
"What is her gift is she knows how to break those concepts down so the struggling learner can understand," Uphus added. "She really knows how to challenge those highly gifted and talented kids, too. If anything needs to be solved, she never gives up until she gets a solution."
Ehlers said she decided to transition into an administrative position in fall 2011 as a way to support teachers. She initially earned her undergraduate degree from Whitman College, then a master's in teaching from Whitworth University, followed by a master's degree for her administrative credential at Gonzaga University.
"I think most interesting to me about being in administration is the opportunity to support teachers in their growth," she said.
And that's easy to do at Greenacres, she added. "They're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure each student has needs meet, and that makes my job really easy."
She said she prioritizes being visible in classrooms every day and getting to know students and their needs. Another aspect of her job is remaining knowledgeable about research-based best educational practices, and then bringing that professional development back to teachers, Ehlers said.
The school has its challenges, however. Ehlers said Greenacres is very full with between 600 and 650 students during the year. The staff numbers about 70 people, including about 40 teachers. A project to renovate and expand Greenacres, which has open classrooms lacking interior walls, is proposed if voters approve a February bond measure.
For this school year, Ehlers said new technology and wireless in the building will open up learning opportunities. Also, the staff has worked on a new standards-based grading system, under a district pilot, and a new teacher evaluation pilot as a state-based initiative. The grading approach focuses on helping all kids achieve a standard, Ehlers added.
"The standard sets what kids need to know and be able to do," she said. "We started implementing it last year, so it's expected to be fully implemented this year, and we're transitioning to Common Core state standards as well."
Ehlers added that the school has a number of ongoing successes, from a strong Title 1 reading program to widespread support from parents and volunteers in classrooms.
"We're working as staff on response-to-intervention programs, so that we're looking at needs of individual kids in collaborative teams," she said, "and putting plans in place to help support their learning."