Meet an Administrator: Nancy LaChapelle
Position: Principal at Woodbrook Middle School
Years in Education: 41
Years at Clover Park: 16
Nancy LaChapelle started her career as a teacher at Evergreen High School in the Highline School District before moving into administration as a skill center director at North Olympic Peninsula Skill Center and an assistant principal at Port Angeles High School. She has served as the Woodbrook Middle School principal for the last 16 years.
How does a skill center differ from a traditional high school?
The skill center served youth from ages 16 to 21. It’s in the career and technical field and they offered three-hour block programs where students could come from local high schools to participate in career areas, such as machining, furniture making, health careers, the food service industry and more.
What did you learn working at the skill center that you brought with you here?
I love being the underdog. I think what really struck me the most was how students who were opting for the career and technical route were somehow viewed as has having made a diminished choice, but I watched students who flunked their way through calculus and trigonometry shine in machining because they were learning the same concepts but applying them in a different way. I try to bring that to Woodbrook, to make sure students of all standing feel success.
What attracted you to a career in education?
As a high school junior I took a class called “exploring childhood” and thought it was interesting. It helped me understand myself at the time and the adult I was going to become. It helped me develop better relationships with my siblings and helped me understand families and the dynamics that come with different family situations. After that experience, I knew I wanted to be a child development teacher.
How did that interest in child development show itself in your teaching career?
I was hired by the Highline School District to create a teen-parenting program. I didn’t know anything about teen parents, but I knew a lot about human needs. Helping impart that knowledge to a 13-year-old and making them understand that they can’t spend their last dollars on a bikini when they have a child to care for was an incredible experience. I was able to really impact their lives, and I think the approach I took led to a lot of success for the school and the parents.
What has surprised you most about working in education?
I'm 40-some years into this, so it's kind of hard to surprise me about too much anymore. However, I was really surprised by how much I liked the middle school level when I got the offer to be a middle school principal in Clover Park. I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that the students are so transparent, you know exactly what they're thinking – be it good or bad.
How has Woodbrook changed during your time here?
Sometimes the wheels come off at the middle school level, and all I want is for kids to learn. Sometimes, middle schoolers try out behavior that doesn't serve them well and the bottom line is they’re going to learn and tomorrow's a new day. When I compare the systems we have in place today versus when I first arrived, I think we send a higher quality of student up to the high schools in terms of being scholars, strong ambassadors for their school and leaders.
What motivates you to do what you do?
There is no question that middle school years are really pivotal to success — students are making up their mind right now about what their future is going to be. Reality hits some of them a little harder than others, and it is wonderful to be able to influence and advocate for the success of our students. I know that that if I can provide them the best educational experience at this level, then I'm setting students up for more success and I like being part of that.
What is the hardest part about your job?
No question, time is the scarcest resource. I think one of the things that keeps my interested in this work is that every day is different. I can set out with imperatives that I have to get this, this and that done and oh my gosh it's 4 o'clock and I haven’t started on any one of those three things! Every day brings a different set of situations that all need attention. But I enjoy the interruptions.
How does CPSD differ from other districts you have worked in?
I’ve been in a really big district, Highline, and I’ve been in a small district, Port Angeles which is half the size of Clover Park, and Clover Park is just right. I think the most fabulous thing about Clover Park is that we’re small enough to have a lot of consistent structures and expectations, yet we’re big enough to offer what I think is just incredible professional development.
What are your hobbies?
I don’t have time for hobbies, but I have become a student of the American revolution. It started by visiting Mount Vernon 20 years ago. I got hooked on what the founding fathers did to give us this incredible nation. I have visited historical sites and done a ton of reading. They say education is wasted on the young, and I wish this fire had been lit when I took U.S. history as a junior in high school. I just have an appreciation for what they sacrificed.