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

New K-8 principal enjoys variety inherent in the job


September 28, 2017

Diana Zimmerman

New Wendt Elementary/Thomas Middle school Principal Nikki Reese visits with students in Janine Oman's kindergarten/first grade class during snack time.

The new K-8 principal at Wahkiakum School District, Nikki Reese, would rather give up her Social Security number and her mother's maiden name than submit to an interview. Nevertheless, she is articulate and poised, and flew through the experience on Tuesday like she'd been doing it every day for years.

Reese, the daughter of a mathematics professor at Lower Columbia College, grew up in Longview and attended Longview schools. She began her undergraduate work at LCC before transferring to Western Washington University in Bellingham, where she got a degree in teaching.

She returned to Longview and for 11 years taught in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classrooms, eventually becoming a reading intervention teacher. A few years in, a principal at Mint Valley planted an idea, though Reese didn't realize it at the time.

"Administration was not always the goal," Reese said. "When one of my principals suggested it, I said, 'Heck no!' That wasn't anything I wanted. I thought I would be a 30 year first grade teacher when I left Western. But I started having an interest in working with the adults, because I had moved into a reading position where I was working with the most struggling readers. I was looking at a lot of data, helping teachers determine what instructional strategies would work for those struggling learners. I found that I enjoyed that side of it."

So in her 11th year of teaching, she also found herself taking classes at the University of Portland to get her administration credentials.

"Being a building principal, you still get to be around the kids," Reese said. "The classroom is still my happiest place, but getting to interact with the adults and impact instruction in that way is also really fun, it's my favorite part of the job."

"Everything we do is in service of children," she added. "A lot of times what I ask adults to do is harder work for adults but it's better for kids. I say over and over again we exist because of the kids. My daily decision making is based around what has the most positive impact on kids. Sometimes you have to make a hard decision but if it's best for kids, how can somebody argue with that? It's about these little guys and girls."

Her first job in administration was as the assistant principal for Cascade Middle School. She was there for four years before becoming the principal at St. Helens Elementary School in Longview.

"I loved that school," Reese said. "It was an awesome experience."

But Reese hoped to one day work in Cathlamet.

"I hoped it would be a possibility," she said. "It's a great fit. One I waited for. I guess my goal was to end my career out here. I have been in education for 20 years. So if I could have my last decade plus a few year be out here, that would be the ultimate dream, because my son will be finished with school in 12 years, and to be able to be a part of that is really important."

Reese has known Wahkiakum High School Principal Stephanie Leitz since they were in sixth grade. They are dear friends, as close as family. It was the regular trips to see Leitz and her family that made Wahkiakum home for Reese and hers. She and her husband bought property on Puget Island and built a house in 2004. She's been commuting to Longview ever since.

"It is a privilege for me to be in this job," she said. "I hoped I would have an opportunity to try for it, and it happened earlier than I thought it might. I loved my experience in Longview, and I'm really grateful for the opportunities I was given. But it is so nice to feel like I am a part of this community. Commuting every day into Longview, leaving at six in the morning and coming back at six at night, I would joke about how I only slept in Cathlamet. I really didn't have the opportunity to be as involved as I might like to be. So now just the natural interactions with families and getting to know parents and being part of the sporting events allows me to feel part of this wonderful community. You mentioned it was a gem, and I couldn't agree more. You want people to know about it."

"The thing that impresses me is that we are a small community with a small education system, but I've observed really amazing things that this district has been able to do without the same resources that larger districts have," Reese said. "Though we can always increase our student achievement, and I think we always have to strive to do better, our kids are performing pretty well when you look at the comparisons with the rest of the state."

One of Reese's challenges this year is taking on more responsibility that comes with working in administration in a smaller district.

"I'm wearing a lot more hats," she said. "Learning that piece of my job is challenging because it's not something I had to do before. I took for granted a lot of work that folks did in Longview. I feel like I owe a lot of 'thank you's'."

Fortunately, the kids and the classrooms are nearby.

"I love to see them interacting with one another," Reese said. "I love to see light bulbs turn on. I'm not going to lie, when I head out to recess or I'm in the lunchroom, when they run up and hug you, it fills your cup up. It reminds you of what you do."


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