A Joyful Place

Jenn Withee, the new Principal of Green Gables Elementary School, grew up in Southern Gables just down the street from the school. She recalls her first day as a student in what was then the Kindergarten room, and the sense of anticipation that something great was starting. It turned out to be a lifetime of dedication to the educational process and the joy it brings. Interview by Bruce McDonald

Bruce: It must have felt a little strange to be coming back to your old school not only as an adult, but as the adult heading up the responsibility for what happens here…

Jenn: Yes, it sure did. My parents were from here, went to Alameda High School and have a longtime identity with this part of Lakewood. I’m a Colorado native, and to be exact a Lakewood native. Mom and Dad moved us into the house on Estes Street when it was time for me to start school, and Green Gables was a central part of our family story for me and my siblings. We had lots of cousins here too! When I came back into the building to consider the assignment here as Principal, the feeling was just overpowering. It’s such a joyful place!

I know you have been a Principal before, up in Arvada, so you have a lot of experience in the educational field. What was your path here?  Well, my undergraduate degree was in Human Development and Family Studies at CU Denver. I also got my Master’s Degree and Teaching license at CU Denver, and I did my residency work at Fitzmorris Elementary in Arvada. Most of my teaching years were at that school, and I have vivid memories of how I learned the critical importance of what teachers do. When I welcomed my first class of kindergartners, and saw all of them sitting on the carpet expectantly waiting for me to guide and nurture them, the magnitude of my responsibility as an educator sunk in. Every day, the families of these children trusted their children’s care to me. It is a profound responsibility and it anchors me as a leader.

What are some of your memories of growing up here in Southern Gables?  The friendships. Childhood friendships formed here are still strong, and the sense of community is a lasting one. I remember the Community Picnic the school used to put on at the end of the year – lots of good memories there. The talent shows. Oh do you sing? Dance?  No, no.., but it was fun. All about doing fun things with friends.

How about your hobbies, leisure activities?  I’m big on mom stuff right now, so that’s what I do with my leisure time. My husband and I have three kids, the oldest in third grade. We do soccer, swimming, basketball. My youngest isn’t into all that yet, at two-and-a-half, but she’ll have her own way of doing things, whatever she gets into.

We hear of teacher shortages – how are you doing here at Green Gables?  We are almost fully staffed, lacking one position for a paraprofessional. We’re working on filling that position, and the fact that we are so well off is due to how great a school this is – it is , as I said, a place of joy. A joyful, positive place. The teachers and all the staff here are so dedicated to the children and their education, and vested in the importance of that mission. It gives such a sense of fulfillment. It’s an easy fit for me to move into and lead, because I am a relational leader. The emphasis is on partnership.

On the subject of partnership, what can the Southern Gables community do for the school – the broader community, besides the families having children here?  We have a gem of a school. It is a positive and real asset to the neighborhood. On social media, though, negative people have louder voices. When people come here and take a tour of the school, and see what we have, the reaction is always positive. But sometimes families moving in from nearby just keep their kids in another school where they came from, and don’t even check us out. I think the families here are proud of the neighborhood, and proud of our school. Tell it!  If neighbors want a tour of the school to learn more about us, we’ll give it. Our neighbors can be goodwill ambassadors. That would be great!

In wrapping up, how about a quote or saying that you look to for guidance?  I’ve heard a quote from Nelson Mandela, “Education Is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”  With every bit of knowledge and skill, with every child, we are changing the world for the better.

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