By CRISTINA JANNEY
Kerri Lacy stands at the door of Lincoln Elementary School every morning so she can high-five her students as they enter the school.
Lacy, the new principal at Lincoln, said she has learned about half of her students’ names since the beginning of the school year, but it is her goal to learn them all as soon as possible.
Lacy, a 26-year veteran of education, said building relationships is the most important part of her job.
“My personal philosophy is that you must build a relationship with whoever you are working with, whether it be the student, the staff or the parents in order to be successful. My goal is, and I said it 100 times in our first meeting this year, relationships, relationships, relationship.
“They need to trust you. They need to know you care about them. They need to know family is first.”
Lacy and her husband, Brian, are empty nesters with two grown daughters of her own. Her youngest, Bailey, graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian in the spring and is attending Highland Community College, where she is a pitcher for the softball team. Her oldest, Kelsey, attended Northwest Missouri State.
She said she has been where her teachers have been and if a teacher has a sick child, she knows that staff member needs to take care of that child.
Lincoln’s greatest challenge is a changing dynamic in families. Many children who attend Lincoln come from low-income families. As a result, those families struggle in a variety of ways. Lacy said she wants to work to connect those families with other resources in the community.
“Society has changed,” she said. “It is just different than it was when I first started teaching. That is a challenge every day to make sure every kid is safe, every kid is fed and every kid is happy.”
The school feeds many of its children breakfast, lunch and a snack during its afterschool program. Lincoln also has a Food for Kids Sake program that sends food home over the weekends.
“My goal is to make Lincoln a family centered, safe, fun place to be for not only our kids and staff but our families,” Lacy said. “I want our families to know they are welcome to come in at any time. …
“I want our kids to feel this is the best place in the world to learn and we care about them.”
Another significant challenge for Lacy as a principal is the age and condition of the Lincoln building. The school district has tried to pass bond issues twice in the last three years. Both failed. The most recent bond would have closed Lincoln, one of the oldest buildings in the district, in lieu of building a new elementary school.
The school struggles to maintain an aging AC and heating system and has had multiple issues in recent years with plumbing.
Lincoln is on multiple levels, which makes moving young students through the building more difficult. Because the school has stairs and no elevator, it can’t accept students in wheelchairs.
“Do I think Lincoln will be open in 10 years?” she said. “I would hope not, because I would hope that we can pass a bond issue or do something for our kids to get them into something that is a more functional environment.”
Lacy, 48, a Fort Hays State University graduate, began her teaching career at Kennedy Middle School, where she spent 13 years. She worked nine years as principal in Solomon before returning to Hays to teach at the middle school level and most recently fifth-grade at Lincoln.
Lacy replaces Elaine Rohleder, who retired in the spring. Lacy said already knowing the staff at Lincoln has been a great advantage. Rohleder also left Lacy a large book of notes that Lacy calls the “Principal’s Bible.”
“She did everything she could to prepare me,” Lacy said of Rohleder. “Still I call her or text her every once in a while and say: ‘What about this?’ ‘Did you do this?’ ‘Should I do this?'”
After all her time as an educator, Lacy still says seeing the excitement on her students’ faces is what brings her back to school each morning.
“Whether it is when you high-five them when you are walking in the door in the morning or when you are down in the cafeteria and they get excited. They may not be having such a great day, but they put that aside and give you a smile. That it what I love, because I know I am making a difference with those kids.”
She said she has enjoyed her transition back to being a principal.
“Being a principal, it is so nice because I get to see every kid every day. I work in the cafeteria, and I have the opportunity to talk to every kid every day, and I think that is really awesome,” Lacy said.
Lacy does not have a lot of extra time now that she has taken over the principal role. However, when she does have free time and she is not spending time with her family, she can be found with hammer and saw in hand making furniture out of reclaimed wood.
Her first project was a buffet for her home, which blossomed into a side business making beds, buffets and cooler cases for her friends and family. One of her pieces recently sold at a charity auction for more than $600.