FORT WAYNE – Jeanne Zehr entered Southwick Elementary School’s media center, laughing as she pointed to a whiteboard on the wall.
She remembered when it arrived. She asked her husband to help her hang it on the wall the same night.
I was so excited to get it up so teachers could use it, Zehr said.
It was the only one in the whole school. Teachers had to sign up and bring the whole class down to use it.
Zehr, an educator and former principal of Southwick Elementary who now works as United Way’s director of community impact, visited the school Wednesday as part of East Allen County Schools’ Principal for a Day program.
The event paired 13 community leaders with 13 of the district’s schools for a day of learning what it means to be principal.
I kept thinking, Boy, I really am back home,’ Zehr said, remembering the many days she walked those same halls, chatting with students and teachers.
Zehr worked in East Allen County Schools for 35 years and served as principal of Southwick Elementary, across from Harding High School on Wayne Trace, from 2001 to 2007.
Wednesday morning, Zehr began her day with an introduction from Principal Natalie Drummond on the school’s news station – the same station Zehr helped create in 2002 to help her better connect with students and celebrate their accomplishments.
It was a great opportunity to have Dr. Zehr back here at the school, Drummond said. She is probably one of the most positive, supportive, engaging educators I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
By noon, Zehr had received lots of hugs from staff and students – and even had invitations to join students at their lunch tables, she said.
I spent a good hour in the cafeteria opening milk packets and packets of barbecue sauce, she said, laughing.
Zehr also made a special stop Wednesday to visit with students she met last summer as part of United Way’s Kindergarten Countdown program. The program helps young children who didn’t have the opportunity to attend preschool and would need some extra help in kindergarten.
The children, most whom were from Burmese refugee camps, participated in a four-week class to teach them what it’s like to go to school, Zehr said.
All of the assessment scores indicate that these students are doing really well now in kindergarten, she said.
Zehr said she visited students during the summer, but seeing them succeeding in class was an added benefit to her day as principal.
The only thing I can describe is like I’m coming full circle with the leadership piece, Zehr said.
I learned so much (at Southwick) about leadership in my six years as principal, and now I’m able to come back and pay it forward as a United Way director.