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Award-winning educator named new principal of Salisbury, Webster elementary schools

Stephanie Wheeler will bring a love for teaching math, knowledge of the Merrimack Valley school community and experience as an administrator split between two buildings to her upcoming role as the new principal of Salisbury and Webster Elementary schools.

“I’m just very excited to be coming on board,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of really positive outreach from both of the staffs and the administration throughout the district, just a lot of people dropping me an email and saying ‘welcome aboard’ and ‘let me know how I can help,’ so it’s been a really nice reception so far.”

Wheeler, 43, will begin her job July 1, succeeding Sandy Davis, who is retiring. Now she’s an assistant principal at both Henry Wilson and Jewett Street Elementary schools in Manchester, so she already has a sense of what it takes to split her time between two schools. She’s also a resident of Penacook, with a husband who teaches at Merrimack Valley Middle School and two sons who attend Penacook Elementary School, which means she’s familiar with the district and its International Baccalaureate program.

“I think that the district is very progressive and it was, you know, the community in which I live, and so I was excited for those aspects of the position,” Wheeler said.

Education is in Wheeler’s family, with her father a longtime math teacher, but she didn’t originally choose teaching. Instead, she got her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of New Hampshire with minors in justice studies and English. After graduation, however, she began working at a school and immediately realized her heart was in teaching.

“When I graduated, I took a job in an elementary school and of course just loved it, and that’s when I decided to go back to school and my parents said, ‘See, we told you!’ ” Wheeler said.

She got a teaching degree from Notre Dame College in Manchester and a master’s of education at Plymouth State University, specializing in math education. She taught math at the middle school level for about 10 years in Laconia and Bedford, then became a Title 1 coach in the Manchester School District. Three years ago, she became a teaching assistant principal at Henry Wilson, which meant she was the go-to person when the assistant principal was out of the building and at the other school. Wheeler has officially been the assistant principal for a year.

Between those two schools in Manchester, she works with about 850 students. In Salisbury and Webster she will have only about 200 kids, which will make the split more manageable, she said.

Wheeler received national recognition in 2010 when she received the Presidential Award for Mathematics and Science Teaching. She was the only teacher from New Hampshire to receive the award that year.

“Teaching, it is my first true love,” she said. “I love working with kids.”

She strives to spend time in the classroom now that she’s an administrator, she said. In Manchester, she also runs parent workshops and professional development for teachers, focusing on the new Common Core State Standards and other topics.

“One of the things I’ve really tried to work hard at doing is getting into classrooms and, you know, working with kids and touching base with kids, and obviously also supporting teachers in their work with kids,” she said.

The positive things administrators, teachers and staff members in Manchester had to say about Wheeler made her stand out to Merrimack Valley Superintendent Mike Martin and school board member Seelye Longnecker, who both went on site visits to the finalists’ schools.

“I was just really taken with the enthusiasm of the people that she worked with in Manchester and how highly they thought of her as a leader and a really accomplished educator,” Longnecker said. She also cited Wheeler’s work in two different schools as an important experience she can bring to Salisbury and Webster.

“One teacher talked about her coming into the classroom and teaching a class with him. They find her ability to work with all kinds of people outstanding,” Martin added about the visit.

During deliberations, one of the board members described Wheeler as very “human,” said school board Chairman Tom Godfrey, adding that the board members found it easy to connect with her.

That quality is perhaps what helped Longnecker state her view on Wheeler very simply: “Gut feeling – she’s up to the job.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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