December 18, 2000
New principal relishes the challenges of her position
by Deborah Stone
Elementary school principals wear many hats on the job and work long hours each day.
Their schools are their second homes where they take on a myriad of responsibilities and face constant challenges. This year, there are five new principals in the Northshore School District.
Ann Madsen, principal of East Ridge Elementary, comes to her position after serving as assistant principal at Wellington and Lockwood Elementary schools last year. She has over twenty-five years of experience in education, which has given her a broad perspective in the field and a variety of tools to use in her new job.
Originally from upstate New York, she graduated from college with a degree in speech pathology and audiology. After working as a speech therapist, she went on to earn a masters in education, specializing in the area of learning disabilities, at the Oregon College of Education.
"I got in my car and drove all the way across the country from New York to go to graduate school," explains Madsen. "I received a scholarship to go to Oregon College and it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, plus the idea of living in another part of the U.S. excited me."
When she completed her studies, she worked in Portland teaching learning disabled children for one year and then took a position abroad in Frankfurt, Germany, setting up a program for the learning disabled at the International School.
She stayed for two years and then moved to London where she set up a similar program, this time spending five years in her position. Following her stint abroad, Madsen returned to the U.S. where she worked in the Edmonds School District for 10 years as a teacher and coordinator of a newly created blended model program for special education.
"At this time in my life, I had a lot of contact with principals and other administrators and I met people who encouraged me to pursue work in educational administration," comments Madsen. "I decided to get my administrative credential through Central Washington University and then did my internship in Edmonds.
"I had seen that the role of being a principal had changed over the years and now it involved more of being a collaborator, working together with teachers and parents to make decisions to benefit children. I liked that style as it is where my belief system is. I now had experience and training and I felt that it was my duty to use my skills and talents to help support and run schools."
Madsen worked as an assistant principal in Everett and Shoreline before coming to Northshore last year. She was looking for a position in a large district that had multiple programs, a broad curriculum and an emphasis on technology.
"Northshore met my needs," says Madsen. "It had everything I was looking for and its vision matched mine." Having the opportunity to have a building of her own is very exciting for Madsen.
She is thrilled to be at East Ridge where she is busy connecting with the staff, the children and their parents.
She says, "It's great to have the chance to get grounded at a place and not be on the hunt. I want to be a team member and be a part of this community, working to build relationships and continue to make children our primary focus."
Madsen enjoys being with the kids and takes every opportunity to talk to them and listen to what they say. Her favorite times of the day are when she interacts with the children in the classrooms, asking them about what they are learning, or outside during recess, when they come up to her and share their feelings and thoughts.
She says, "It makes me feel good when they can tell me their concerns because I want them to know me and feel comfortable approaching me at any time. It's important for me to get to know these kids at the deepest level I can and this takes time.
"What makes a school an excellent place of learning is when multiple people know each of the children well. When this occurs, children know that others really care about them and then positive learning experiences can take place. Involvement is the key."
Madsen goes on to say, "I see this school as having outstanding blessings with its supportive community. The parents are committed to supporting their children's education and give their time and energy to help in so many ways. The staff is also very committed and they demonstrate energy and enthusiasm in their work.
"There are also good communication tools in place, which is an essential ingredient in a productive school."
In regards to the future of education, Madsen feels that a "thinking curriculum" is a necessity.
The focus will need to be on the process and children will need to think of multiple ways to problem solve. According to her, teachers will need to use probing questions to get children to use process thinking and elicit dialogue about their explanations.
"This is already beginning," explains Madsen, "but soon it will become a total necessity for everyone to do this. We will need good staff training, which I think is the most critical component. Northshore has a great attitude about staff training and I think the district sees that developing the potential of their teachers is crucial."
Ten- to 12-hour work days do not leave much free time for this new principal, but when she has the chance, she enjoys being with her husband (also an elementary school principal), reading nonfiction, skiing, traveling and playing with her two dogs. Life is very full for Ann Madsen, but she wouldn't want it any other way.
She says, "I love my work because it is personally very rewarding and deeply satisfying."