So Vickie Penson
began working her way from support personnel to classroom teacher to her new role this year as principal at Jefferson Elementary School
"So far, I can honestly say I love my job," Penson
said Thursday."I'm looking forward to being here a long time."
Twenty-five years ago, Penson
was hired as an aide for the new coed physical education program at Shawnee High School
loved sports and was excited about her
duties, which included helping coach cross country and track. In 1985, Penson added athletic director secretary to her tasks and began helping with the driver's education program.
was coaching the pom pon squad, a post she
continued for nine years.She
also coached softball and track at the high school and taught an hour a day at Faith 7. Along that time, she was asked to take the position of principal's secretary at the high school.She served as registrar, taking care of transcripts and records and helping the principal.
"I enjoyed that job a lot, but I felt more removed from the kids," she
said."I had some contact, but I wasn't getting a lot of one-on-one time with them." Staff members at the high school had begun telling Penson she ought to go back to school and become a teacher.She
listened to their encouragement and finally made the decision: she'd enroll in college and become an elementary teacher.She
husband, Larry, also an educator, and he
and their two kids offered tremendous support, she
"I didn't think I would finish the first semester.I was so unsure of myself," Penson
said."But then I got my grade report, and I'd made a 4.0.I was elated." Penson
attended two years at Seminole State College
, then earned a $1,000 scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma
.To pay the rest of her
made cheerleading uniforms for squads across the state, sometimes driving many miles to deliver them.
After earning her
teaching certificate, Penson
applied for positions at both Jefferson and Horace Mann elementaries in Shawnee.She
was hired at Jefferson
-- a dream come true, she
said -- but after three weeks she
was transferred to Horace Mann because of its population explosion.
"I was devastated at first," she
said."But it was the best experience at Horace Mann that I could have had.It prepared me for teaching.I love those kids over there.They need your love and attention so much." Penson taught fifth grade at Horace Mann from 1994 to 2000.In those years, she also earned her master's degree from UCO, focusing on administration. In 2000, she became a third-grade teacher at Jefferson and continued through spring of this year.
But when she
learned the principal's post would be open, she
felt it was time to apply.She earned the job, and began the year as the head of the school.
"The kids know me as a teacher, and they're learning me as a principal," Penson
said."Now I can be there for all of them.I'm not going to know just 20 kids -- I will know almost 400 kids.That's rewarding for me to be there for them." Penson
had some concern about leading a school where she'd just been teaching, but she's
been met with a supportive staff who knows her
...Penson said her years of working in all areas of school life have been great preparation for being a principal.She
knows how to get things done, and she's
learned do's and don'ts from other administrators over the years.
Principals must wear many hats -- from comforting a child to filling out forms to fixing a leaky roof -- and Penson
loves the variety of the job.She
takes pride in being consistent, fair and calm, she
said, and enjoys the problem-solving parts of her
But, like her
goes to school each day for one main reason: the children.
"We're all working toward the same goal -- student success," she
said."I can't name one person who doesn't feel that way.I want students to feel like this is a second home.When they leave the building for the day, I want them to say they were happy to be at school today." Penson
said working with youth comes with big rewards: the hugs they give, their coming into her
office for a piece of candy to celebrate a good day, their capacity for love.
But the career also brings heartache.Many children come from broken homes, Penson
said, so an educator's job must go beyond reading and math.
"Some kids are needing attention so bad," she
said."Their parents are divorced and they just don't know where they belong.Kids bring baggage -- they're just like us.But they don't know how to deal with it yet.Sometimes their hearts are broken, and we help them through it." Penson
mindful of her
rise from teacher's aide to principal.But she
didn't think much of the journey until someone queried her
about doing the same thing.
"I told them they could do it," she