By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A letter to families, or a news release, only says so much – so after news came in Thursday afternoon about the new principal hired for West Seattle’s most populous elementary school, Lafayette in the Admiral District, we asked for a chance to speak with her.
The announcement of Shauna Heath‘s hiring pointed out that she is a West Seattleite.
Not only does she live here, she told WSB in a Thursday-evening phone conversation, she lives less than a mile from the school she will be leading as of July 1st.
“My child said, ‘We could ride our bikes to school together'” if she worked close to home, instead of in Kent, where Heath has been principal of Sunrise Elementary for two years. (Her son is an Alki Elementary first-grader right now.)
Making a school community also feel like a “home”/”family” community is one of the goals Heath says she has strived for, wherever she has worked.
When we asked her what accomplishments she’s proudest of at Sunrise, that’s one of the things she listed. “If you spend as much time (at school) as you do with your parents at home … this (also) is your ‘home’ and your ‘family’ and your community.” And that doesn’t only apply to the students and staff; she says she started a “volunteer program” to help get kids access to afterschool activities such as “Lego Club, video club, tutoring, and it’s all run with volunteers.”
She also mentions Sunrise achieving “AYP” – adequate yearly progress (explained here), under the federal parameters for whether a school is succeeding – last year (after what state records show were several years, before her arrival, of the school not making AYP).
Sunrise also has implemented a schedule that she says allows all students to get a half-hour a day of either “extension or remediation” – help or challenge, “depending on what they need.”
Heath doesn’t take sole credit for those achievements – “I’ve been able to work with an incredible staff (at Sunrise) and it was really a difficult decision to leave them. (But) knowing I’m going to (another great staff) at Lafayette is definitely also incredible.”
While Lafayette is West Seattle’s largest-enrollment elementary school, with its rolls having grown to about 550, requiring the addition of portables, Heath says it’ll be the “smallest” school she’s led. Her current school in Kent has 560 enrolled, kindergarten through 6th; in Bellevue and Tennessee, she led schools with about 700 students, and she also has led a middle school with about 1,000 enrolled.
One distinctive aspect of Lafayette is its long-strong Spectrum program, self-contained classes for advanced learners (the district’s explanation is here). What’s her background in that? we asked.
She points mostly to her special education background, including time in Alaska, where, she says, “special education” also includes “gifted and talented.” She also mentioned “university studies” in that specialization. During her time in Georgia and Tennessee, she says, “they integrate most of the gifted services, so that is a little bit different. In Decatur (Georgia), the district has a lot of gifted/talented students – 20 percent of their students are qualified – so I had to work on addressing that.”
Currently, she says, her Kent school has “three classrooms of ‘highly capable’ kids … everybody needs to have the core instruction, everybody gets a differentiation time or some ‘extending’ activities … every child is different and we need to figure out how to address their differences.”
Asked for her overall thoughts about taking on Lafayette, she talked about its status as an “academically successful school” and how to continue that momentum: “Teaching all students at their levels, meeting their needs, with an academically rigorous environment for each of the kids … the building has an amazing culture and climate already, (so I’ll be) taking what’s there and really building on it.” As mentioned earlier in her philosophy of school = community/family, she mentioned a desire for more involvement with all of West Seattle, and “our incredible neighborhood.”
Speaking of neighborhoods, Heath is originally from Wichita, Kansas; she left Wichita at age 16 to study in Germany as an exchange student, and when she came back, she went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia (from which, as the district mentioned in its announcement, she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees). Her ties to the Northwest also include family in Eugene, Oregon.
But right now, front and center, it’s the challenge ahead, and she says, “I’m ready to go. … Every time I (start work at a school) I want to provide every child the same thing I would want for my own child. We have resources in West Seattle to connect globally and locally; sometimes we forget the context and connection.”
The district has promised to organize events to help Heath start connecting with her new school community/family; no dates set yet, but we’ll report them when they are.