When Katherine (Katie) Spenthoff—principal of Washington Jr. High—initially began her career in academics, her heart was in curriculum, and she had no desire to lead from anywhere other than the front of the classroom. However, a few, short years after being hired by the Washington Local School District, she discovered that she liked the idea of working with all the parts—the students, teachers, parents, administrators—and she soon found herself in the position of Werner Elementary School principal. Only two years after that, she was honored with the “20 under 40” Recognition Leadership Award, recognizing individuals who are making outstanding contributions to their communities. And that’s just what Mrs. Katie Spenthoff does, everyday.
While Mrs. Spenthoff was recognized for the “20 under 40” award this year because of the Sensory Learning Program she implemented at Werner Elementary, her achievements go far beyond that one program…
One of the first lessons Katie learned as an administrator was that consequences don’t change behavior. “Although my role was to handle discipline,” she says of her stint as Assistant Principal at Jefferson Jr. High, “I liked the idea of trying to talk with kids who were disengaged and acting out. I worked with them, the teachers and the parents to find solutions that were best for everyone.” This practice proved to be successful with both teachers and students, and it grew into the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports program—the program that would be the basis by which she would lead in the future.
Now, as principal, Katie makes it her job to acknowledge needs within her entire school and to do whatever it takes to make sure that those needs are met. “For me, being a principal is about looking at the successes that need to be celebrated, then looking at the pieces that need to be supported —then helping with THAT.”
When asked if her underlying goal has changed since moving up from elementary to junior high, she says no, “the ultimate goal is always to connect with the kids and help them grow into successful adults.” And she adds, she could not do this without the help of all the outstanding teachers, parents and administrators that inspire her and educate her every step of the way.
“I’m so lucky to work with and for outstanding people…Washington is a district full of people that insist on doing right by the kids and raising the bar. It’s a district that empowers teachers to think outside the box. For us, it’s always about ‘What can we do positive-wise to re-engage our students?’”
When asked what she hopes to accomplish in the future, Katie replies, “I don’t ever want to be stagnant or to think that I’ve ‘gotten there,’ because I haven’t. There is always a new challenge, and always a new approach, and in order to do right by the kids, we always need to be trying something new.”