The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Retiring principal looks back on rewarding career


Diana Zimmerman

Theresa Libby has decided to retire after serving as a principal in the Wahkiakum School District for 15 years. Last week, she was preparing to move out of her office and attending the last of her meetings.

Theresa Libby has been going to school for 50 years. When she makes plans, she has to consider her schedule. Everything has to work into summer vacation, spring break, or Christmas break.

That's all about to change for the retiring K-8 Principal for the Wahkiakum School District.

"I just finished my 15th year at Wahkiakum," Libby said, shaking her head in disbelief. "When I came down here I didn't think I'd make it five. One of my brothers told me I had to make it until my nephew graduated eighth grade.

"That'll never happen," she told him.

Her nephew graduated from eighth grade this year. He's going to high school in the fall, but Libby isn't sure what she is going to do.

And that is just how she wants it.

After graduating from Wahkiakum High School, Libby got a degree in education from Washington State University and taught in the Kalama school district for 17 years. While there, she got her masters at Portland State University and eventually went through the administration program at Washington State University in Vancouver.

Libby loved teaching, but the principals she worked with saw something in her and encouraged her to consider going into administration.

"I miss the classroom," she said. "I miss the impact that you can have on the group of kids that you have. The last six years I taught we looped. So I would get a group of third graders and I kept them for third and fourth grade. It was awesome, you got to know the kids and parents so well. But I look back on it. I was always questioning and challenging. Other people listened to me."

"I was actually supposed to do my internship when this job opened up," Libby said. "I decided to throw my name in the hat. I thought enough time had passed that I could come back to the school I attended."

She got the job, and as she described it, she worked her internship and lived her job.

"It was funny," she said. "You have to get so many hours during your internship. Other people in my program were saying, 'I got to do parking lot duty at the football game.' I was like, 'I got my 600 hours in and it's November.' It was overwhelming, but (Superintendent) Bob Garrett was really good and really helpful and here I am."

Here she is. But before she got to right here, right now, there were 15 years of scheduling, assessments, discipline, and more paperwork than one can dream of.

"Education has changed a lot," Libby said. "I like the Common Core standards, but I don't like the high stakes testing that goes along with them. I think Common Core standards get a bad name from the high stakes testing. In some ways the testing has made teachers better, but by the time the kids are in third or fourth grade, kids are stressed out, and teachers are stressed out. I think we spend too much time with assessment. You end up taking away some of the things that were fun but educational, the things you remember. It's really hard to balance it."

"Teachers should be going back to school, getting the latest things, always improving their craft," she added. "I don't think we're ever done. That's one of the things I loved about it most. You didn't go to work and know exactly what was going to happen that day. I just think we should be trusted a little more that we went into education because we want kids to learn and we really care about kids. I feel like we are constantly being questioned on that."

Caring for the kids in their classrooms comes with the territory, but philosophies on how to better serve their needs are shifting.

"Every day is different," Libby said. "You deal with discipline-or just kids that are struggling for whatever reason and are acting out. We try to get to the root of what is really going on and sometimes they just need someone to listen. We talk so much about walking a day in some of those kid's shoes and it's a miracle that they got through the door. Maybe they didn't have breakfast. Or sometimes I'll suggest we go for a little walk for a while.

And after that there's still more paperwork. When Libby needs a break, she walks out of her office and down the hall.

"I really enjoy walking down the hall and popping into classrooms to watch good teachers teaching," Libby said. "It's amazing to sit and watch what they do on a daily basis. To see the rapport they build with kids. To walk into a classroom and see kids engaged."

When it comes to naming accomplishments, Libby's thoughts skip the personal and go straight to community.

"One of the biggest things that happened when I first got here was building that playground," she said. "I really saw the power of the staff when they put their mind to something. That took us like a year to fundraise and a year to organize. There were people in charge of the meals, and people in charge of the crews that were coming to work. They basically came in for eight days and built a playground with community."

"That was huge. That is where I saw what a force, what a group can do when they really want to work together. That's when you also saw how much the community supports their schools."

The hardest part will be this fall when school starts again, and Libby won't have to be there. She plans to do a little substitute teaching, but everything else is up in the air.

"I'm just going to try to enjoy some time and see what comes of it," Libby said. She hopes to reconnect with friends, maybe do a little traveling. Eventually, she may even go back to work.

"I have some interest in the social stuff with kids," she said. "I think things could be done differently and more positively for kids in foster care. I'm interested in the dynamics at the state level. I think some of the hoops you have to jump through make it too difficult."

But right now, she just wants to "do something on a Wednesday, just because I can."


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