New principal has vision for Manchester Elementary School

New Manchester Elementary School principal Theressa Prather said the “Whole Child” philosophy was the catalyst behind her decision to work in the South Kitsap School District. - Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo
New Manchester Elementary School principal Theressa Prather said the “Whole Child” philosophy was the catalyst behind her decision to work in the South Kitsap School District.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo

The oversized calendar hangs from a wall in a narrow hall just outside her office.

For Manchester Elementary School principal Theressa Prather, who started July 1 after she was hired to succeed the retired A.J. Callan, it is an investment in her pledge to be accessible.

“If Fireman Bob is coming into kindergarten, I want to know about it,” said Prather, laughing.

While Prather’s office is set away from classrooms, she won’t be. In addition to having a detailed schedule of upcoming events, Prather plans to spend time each day in a different classroom.

“I can have appropriate conversations as need be and congratulate people for their successes on the spot,” said Prather, who spent last year as the assistant principal at Chautauqua Elementary School in the Vashon Island School District. “It’s going to take some time for me to get to know the school — what is working well and what needs tweaking.”

Prather said it is a necessary investment that comes with inheriting a stable position. After all, Callan served as principal since 1998 and first worked at the school in 1979.

“I know that change is scary and I want to do everything I can to minimize the scary part,” Prather said.

It is an uneasiness she believes she can identify with. Prather’s husband, Doug, decided to purchase a sailboat and she knew she would have to “conqueror” her fears of being on water. Once that occurred, Prather said she learned how much she enjoyed the tranquility of the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. She now is immersed in the hobby to the point that she plans to teach sailing classes during the evening.

That required a buy-in for Prather. In a similar sense, it is the reason she gravitated toward the South Kitsap School District. Beginning in 1989, Prather worked in the neighboring Peninsula School District at Artondale Elementary School. She took notice in 2008 when Dave LaRose became SKSD’s superintendent and talked about the “Whole Child” concept, which he said aimed to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged. While the district’s administration has changed — Michelle Reid was hired last year as superintendent — Prather has found those values remain intact.

“I love the philosophy of the ‘Whole Child’ and the belief that every child can be successful,” Prather said. “I think that belief is shared from the top all the way down.”

She said that concept also is intertwined with the community. Prather already is meeting with school’s Parent Teacher Student Organization and wants to hold some community forums when school begins.

“They’re going to want to meet me and hear what my thoughts and views are,” she said. “My view is that high expectations is the way to success. By collaborating together, we can help our students be more successful both academically and socially.

“I want kids to feel good coming to school and I want them to be successful when they’re here. I would like the school to have an identity. I hope that’s a family friendly, successful school.”

Prather first decided she wanted to become a teacher as a second-grader in Bend, Ore. After graduating from Gig Harbor High School, she attended Western Washington University to pursue that career path. But Prather met her husband there and elected to leave after a year to get married. After working in various positions for several years, Prather enrolled at Tacoma Community College and then earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Puget Sound.

“I need to fulfill my passion,” Prather said. “This is what I need to do.”

Prather, 50, later received her master’s in curriculum and instruction from Puget Sound and then gained her administrative certification from WWU. She said she wanted to wait until her daughters, who now are 23 and 21 years old, graduated from high school before she pursued a management position.

“I think I was a pretty effective teacher, but I loved the idea of having greater contact and greater impact,” Prather said. “I had some fantastic mentors along the way who encouraged me to pursue it.”

Prather, who lives in Gig Harbor, interviewed for the principal position last year at Olalla Elementary School that went to Charlotte Flynn. Despite that, Prather said she was willing to forego other opportunities and remain at Chautauqua — unless another opportunity arose in SKSD.

“I just felt such an affinity for this district,” she said. “I love the process, the people — everything about it was fantastic.

“I’m thrilled to be here at Manchester.”

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