Rookie Principal of the Year off to a great startFeb 16, 2021 03:25PM ● By Jet Burnham
It may be her first year as a principal, but Theresa Christensen is no rookie. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
The Jordan Elementary Principals Association named Falcon Ridge Elementary Principal Theresa Christensen as Rookie of the Year. Colleagues describe her as flexible, inspirational, innovative, kind, patient, understanding, welcoming, a creative problem-solver, a good influence for children and a powerful example of a successful leader for young girls.
“It's not an easy time to become a principal, for sure,” said Terri Samowitz, a teacher at Falcon Ridge. “I think she's handled it absolutely beautifully—like she had been doing this for years.”
Although she is a new principal, Christensen brings a lot of experience to the job. She has worked as an assistant principal, a school teacher, a behavior specialist, a corporate trainer, a business accountant, a lacrosse coach and a mother of three.
Christensen said she decided to leave her business career to become an educator because she could feel a kind of energy whenever she walked into a school building.
“I want to be in the school with the teachers and the kids,” she said. “I'm not in the office very much, and when I do have to be in there to do paperwork, I'm antsy because I want to be out.”
Samowitz has worked with five principals in the last seven years and has been very impressed with Christensen.
“One of the reasons I nominated her was because I was absolutely amazed at her ability to connect with the teachers and with the students so quickly,” she said. “She gets out there in the hallways and out on the playgrounds and into classrooms and just makes sure she's seen, which makes her very approachable. And to have an approachable administrator is a tremendous blessing for those of us who are just surviving the days.”
Falcon Ridge teachers have become used to Christensen popping into their classrooms to see how things are going and to offer any help.
“She wants to help you in any way she possibly can,” administrative assistant Nancy Bateson said. “She’s been a support in what has been a very difficult year. Teachers are happier, even with all the frustrations of everything this year, because they feel that they're heard and supported.”
Christensen is grateful to have “an amazing staff and an incredible faculty.”
“They've made my transition to being a principal—especially in a pandemic year—so much easier,” Christensen said. “They all communicate and work well together, and that's made a huge difference in being able to make some of the changes that I've made and some of the things that we've been able to do at the school.”
Though first-year principals are warned not to make too many changes to school culture in their first year, Christensen has introduced new programs to create a positive culture at Falcon Ridge.
“I felt strongly that the culture needs to be one of kindness,” she said. “So I created a kindness club, with students from each class who meet once a month and plan kindness challenges for the entire student body to do. It's been fun to see them compete against each other in ways to be kind.”
Students also take pledges each month with the Golden Gate Club.
Christensen also replaced traditional discipline methods with restorative justice practices, which she had success with as a behavior specialist.
“It's something that I feel very strongly about and knew that when it was time for me to have my own school that was something I was going to do,” she said. “We've just really tried to revamp the way that we approach the behaviors of the kids.”
Like an academic skill, Christensen believes kids need to be taught behavior skills. Restorative practices focus on changing the behavior through instruction and through accountability instead of punishment.
Samowitz said while another principal would have suspended two of her students who recently “got into a little bit of a tiff,” Christensen invited them to discuss the situation, recognize how it made everyone feel and decide how they could make things right.
Christensen makes herself available to listen to concerns from teachers, students and parents with an open-door policy. Parents appreciate that Christensen is always willing to listen to their concerns.
“We have always been very lucky with our principals, and Theresa is no exception,” PTA President Megan Wilding said. “The first thing I noticed about Theresa is she loves the students. This has been a hard year with COVID, and she is always looking for ways that the kids can still be kids and have a good, safe time at school.”