While it may be easier to see what our teachers do daily in the classroom through instruction, homework and correspondence with parents, the hard work of the administrators who are behind the scenes making sure our schools run smoothly may not always be apparent. Meet the 2021 Alachua County Principal and Vice Principal of the Year – two outstanding educators who have a passion for education and your students! Hear their stories in their own words.
ALACHUA COUNTY PRINCIPAL OF THE YEAR
Elizabeth LeClear – Principal of Lake Forest Elementary
I have wanted to be a music teacher since 4th grade. I went to WVU and double majored in vocal and instrumental music. I started my career in Broward County and taught music in a center school. This was the best experience of my life. My husband and I moved to Alachua for him to go to Vet school at UF. I worked in Putnam County and then many schools in Alachua. One of my colleagues called me to let me know that he nominated me for Principal of the Year. It is special because I have worked with my Alachua colleagues for 20+ years. We all are so dedicated to the students and our community and the work is very fulfilling.
I have been in education for 34 years. I am from a rural community in western PA. My school was very small and I was only one of six students who went to college. I wasn’t prepared when I entered WVU. My passion comes from making sure all children are prepared for college and career no matter what school they attend. I have loved being an administrator in Alachua County. I have worked with so many amazing teachers and colleagues and have loved every assignment. I am one of the few people that for the last 34 years, I wake up every day and have loved the profession that I chose.
What are some of the challenges you face?
I think a big challenge for me is the negative talk about Lake Forest and the East side of town. I have a great school. My students are amazing and we have really great parents and community members that are dedicated to supporting us. We have dedicated teachers who are making a difference. It is a great place to work.
Funny teaching story
When I was the AP at Hawthorne, I was monitoring a baseball game and the FFA cows were loose. I had to scale a fence and put them back in their area. I was raised on a farm but FFA cows think they are people you need to negotiate with!
What do you like to do outside of school?
My family loves going to national parks and hiking. I also run. My favorite book is Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.
ALACHUA COUNTY ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL OF THE YEAR
Ginger Stanford – Assistant Principal of Curriculum at Kanapaha Middle School
When I graduated from Hawthorne High School, I knew I wanted to teach and had a Chappie James Scholarship/Loan from the State of Florida – it was a program where I repaid by four years of teaching. Graduating with a BA in Elementary Education and emphasis in Science, I started teaching Middle School Science in High Springs. Moving to Wiles Elementary, I taught 5th grade and then got my Master’s in ESE/ Gifted Education and started teaching 4th and 5th graders Math and Science. After sixteen years in the classroom, I returned to earn my Specialist degree and moved toward Administrative Roles. I have been an Assistant Principal for seven years. I have been in education for 26 years.
There is a true science to learning – I have sought out Professional Development that has opened my eyes to providing equitable learning opportunities for all students, engaging students in learning by activating their brains and building connection to prior knowledge. Working with families enriches the experiences for all. As an educator, my struggle has been making sure every student has the tools to be a lifelong learner, helping students and parents know about options, choices and ways to reach the goals they have. Students want to be successful but some do not know they have more control of their future, involving them in discussions and coming up with plans to make those dreams happen. When a student is not being successful, it is important we discuss with them what they need to improve – no child should be valued only by a letter grade without understanding why.
What makes you successful in your position?
As an AP, your job is to support the initiatives of the Principal, listen to the voices of students, teachers and parents and create programs to help everyone come together with a focused goal. I have been privileged to work with incredible principals who have allowed me to take on various responsibilities and to brainstorm solutions as challenges arise. PTA groups in the schools have supported and been willing to help with parent events and provide incentives for students, teachers, bus drivers and staff to encourage them when it is a tougher time at school. It takes everyone to create a culture where students can believe in themselves and learn.
Have you seen any systemic changes over the past couple of years?
As our world becomes technology dependent, it has made the business of education more challenging. We have so many families that do not have access to computers and internet at home and when learning went online, it created greater gaps. Alachua County Schools are aware, but this is a community issue – we have work to make sure all have access and know how to use the technology. Textbooks have become obsolete in many districts with all students using one to one technology, this is not an option in our district yet. Helping families be aware of the dangers that come with technology is a daily problem – there has to be balance – access, safety and monitoring is a constant issue. The mental health of our students is affected by social media and we have to work to help families set boundaries.
What do you like to do outside of school?
My family has been a great support system to allow me to give more to my job and help me by volunteering, improving facilities and taking care of my children so I can work later. My husband Rick and daughters Courtney and Erin encourage me to relax in my garden, kayak and go on adventures. My favorite hobby is working on my home – remodeling and updating has been a fun way to make it special to us.