New Frisco Elementary School principal emphasizes innovation in teaching | SummitDaily.com

New Frisco Elementary School principal emphasizes innovation in teaching

Kaeli Subberwal
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This is the first in a series on educators in the Summit School District who are taking on new roles.

Laura Rupert's new office at Frisco Elementary School is airy and open, with a high desk and a wooden bookshelf full of books and memorabilia of years' worth of teaching.

When former Frisco Elementary principal Renea Hill announced her retirement in March, Rupert, a Summit Cove Elementary school kindergarten teacher of seven years, was chosen to take up her post.

Although she moved to Summit County 14 years ago, she fell in love with the mountains at a young age.

“I didn’t like where education was going. It didn’t feel good anymore. It felt very contrived and one-size-fits-all.”Laura RupertFrisco Elementary School principal

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"When I was about 13 years old," she said, "I took a school trip out to Vail, and we went in the mountains, and, at that point, I decided I was going to live in the mountains someday. And I actually decided I was going to be a mountain guide … it didn't quite work out that way."

Rupert, who grew up in Chicago, went to college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. She went into college intending to be a nurse but soon found that her true passion lay elsewhere. She entered her university's pre-nursing program but, in her spare time, continued to work in camps and daycares.

"It was just a natural thing for me to teach and coach," she said.

Eventually, one of the teachers at the after-school program where she worked told her that she was especially gifted at working with challenging students and suggested that she might want to pursue a career in special education.

"I didn't even know what special ed was, but it was in the back of my head, and I learned a little more about it as I was suffering through my science courses for nursing," said Rupert.

Eventually, she realized that education was where her true calling lay.

"College was feeling like a struggle, and I realized that was why," she said. "I wasn't going in the right direction. I switched to education, and it was like boom. All the weight was lifted off."

After college, she moved into the classroom as a special-education teacher, while getting her master's degree in curriculum instruction from National Louis University in Wheeling, Illinois. While she was teaching at Lyons Township High School in Chicago, she applied for a Fulbright scholarship to teach overseas. She was accepted to teach in South Africa for a year, but, at the last minute, the trip was canceled: The teacher with whom she was meant to trade classrooms had changed her mind.

Not wanting to lose her momentum, Rupert moved anyway to Colorado to follow her childhood dream. There, she met her husband and they had two girls, now 6 and 9 years old.

"I couldn't imagine living anywhere else," she said.

While teaching kindergarten at Summit Cove Elementary, she began to take on more leadership roles, mentoring new teachers and providing guidance. She began to realize that this leadership was something she could do on a larger scale. Furthermore, she was starting to see issues with the direction in which education was moving, issues that she wanted to help fix.

"I didn't like where education was going," she said. "It didn't feel good anymore. It felt very contrived and one-size-fits-all — all these standardized tests driving our education, driving our instruction, instead of what was best for kids and meeting their needs."

She hopes to be able to convey this philosophy in her leadership of Frisco Elementary. Her goal for the school, she said, is "that we accept change as a challenge and that we really use it to drive our instruction to do its best for kids of today."

"It's so important to me that we are raising really great kids and really strong citizens and good decision makers, not just kids who can score high on a standardized test," she said.

She spoke of helping teachers to innovate the ways in which they educate their students to prepare them for a brave new world that is not yet completely understood.

"We don't need for kids to be able to just follow orders; we need them to be able to problem-solve and create," said Rupert. "So we really are changing the approach to education because we need to create citizens of the world (who) will be able to be successful as this world is ever-changing."

Tackling this challenge will not be an easy task, but she comes prepared. She recently completed the University of Denver's principal program, and she has years of classroom experience behind her. She noted that the processes of running a classroom and running a school are similar; it is just the problems and the challenges that are different. The most important thing she learned in her kindergarten classroom that she can apply to her new position as principal, she said, is patience.

"The really important thing with teaching kindergarten is knowing that you're going to get a better product and a better result if they're happy, and so it's the same thing in running a school. If everyone's happy, and they feel safe, they're going to do a better job," she said.

This year, one of her foremost goals is to earn the trust and respect of the school's teachers.

Although the pressures of building trust, implementing change, and managing conflicts will be difficult, Rupert said that the most challenging part of her new job will be her newfound separation from the classroom.

"The hardest thing is not having that attachment to those kids and seeing them grow. And, for me, the best gratification was when those kids learned how to read," she said.

Even without having the direct involvement of being a classroom teacher, she will still have the opportunity as a principal to watch Frisco students develop. She also has the chance to watch her two daughters grow up; they are entering first grade and fourth grade at Summit Cove Elementary. Her husband is at Summit Cove as well; he is the fourth grade teacher and STEM coordinator.

The family has a puggle (half pug, half beagle) named Cricket and a leopard gecko named Herbie. In her spare time, Rupert enjoys mountain biking with her family. She names "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand and "Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah as among her favorite books.

Although she thinks of herself as someone who takes risks and has a good sense of humor, she said that ultimately she is most touched when people speak of her kindness, trustworthiness, strength and integrity.

"I feel like that gets you farther in life than being daring or funny. You can still have that when you're old," she said.

This year, she said that she is looking forward to living up to the expectations of all who have recognized this kindness and integrity in her and hope to see her succeed.

"The families here are so warm and welcoming, and the teachers here are so positive and team-oriented," she said of Frisco Elementary. "I feel really, really blessed that I get to start my career here."