New South Summit Elementary School principal aims to change lives
‘The only reason I work is to pay it forward and to somehow make a difference in the lives of students’
Lisa Flinders knows that teachers who care can change lives.
They did for her.
Sitting in her office at South Summit Elementary School, she reminisces. Growing up, her mother married and divorced four times when Flinders was young, the foundation of her life shifting beneath her each time. Home was not always safe.
But at school, she found her voice.
“I had two teachers that made a difference for me,” she said. “They made me feel like my circumstances did not determine my success or my happiness. That’s why I do what I do.”
Flinders now dedicates her life to providing that same sense of belonging and security to hundreds of students. This year, she’ll be doing it in a different capacity. She was recently named principal of South Summit Elementary School after spending last year as an administrator and part-time teacher at South Summit Middle School.
She replaces longtime principal Louise Willoughby, who is taking on a leadership role at the district’s new Silver Summit Academy.
“The only reason I work is to pay it forward and to somehow make a difference in the lives of students,” Flinders said.
Flinders’ first goal is to grow a culture where every member of the staff is focused on making sure each student feels loved, respected and valued every day, she said. From there, students can excel academically. Knowing the kind of growth that can happen under that philosophy had Flinders eager for children to fill the hallways weeks before school even began.
“We’re going to do three things really well at our school,” she said. “We’re going to do literacy, math and character education.”
But Flinders’ also wants the community to inform her focus. She is seeking feedback from parents and students, then will help draft a mission statement for the school that exemplifies the ideals residents value.
“We’re very concerned with having our community and stakeholders be a part of our school,” she said.
Flinders, a first-year principal, is pleased her first opportunity to lead a school comes in the South Summit School District. She said she admires the people of the Kamas Valley, where she sees a unique level of caring and cooperation. From her perspective, those traits make it a great place to be an educator.
“It’s a great privilege and a great opportunity for me to educate their kids because I care about them,” she said. “I’m invested in the community. I know that if I needed help for anything, there are people in the community that I can call on and they would come to my aid. It’s amazing. … I just hope I can measure up to their expectations.”
Superintendent Shad Sorenson said in a press release that Flinders will be a valuable addition to the elementary school.
“Our district is fortunate to have the caliber of leadership that Lisa has and will continue to provide,” he said. “She is an amazing faculty member, mentor, leader and has truly earned the admiration and respect of her students, colleagues and community members.”
Flinders and Willoughby are not the only South Summit administrators stepping into new roles this year. According to a press release, South Summit High School special education director Jeremiah Fierro and Shad Stevens were recently named the school’s vice principals after the departure of Jeff Greiner, who is helping head Silver Summit Academy.
Meanwhile at the middle school, Kena Rydalch replaces Flinders as vice principal. Rydalch previously taught full-time at the school and will continue to teach English part-time.
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“I think one of the things that really, really, really scares … us is knowing that there are go-to docs that they can send out saying a student or a teacher or a staff member died,” said union co-president Julie Hooker.