Salina public schools graduate to continue love of community as new elementary principal

Heather Barkley was announced as the new principal for Meadowlark Ridge Elementary School in Salina. Barkley, a graduate of Salina Central High School, said she knew early on in her time within USD 305 that she wanted to work in education.

Meadowlark Ridge Elementary School in Salina will have a new principal next year, but she isn’t new to Unified School District 305 or this city she calls home.

Heather Barkley, who is a graduate of Salina Central High School, is an educator with 15 years of experience, most recently as the special education coordinator for Central Kansas Cooperative in Education (CKCIE).

Special education has been a passion for Barkley, and she said her experience in it has helped her understand the importance of looking at each student’s education.

“Special education has taught me that education needs to be individualized, even for students that aren’t necessarily diagnosed with a disability,” Barkley said. “Everyone needs to work at their own pace and everything that is successful for them.”

Being the special education coordinator for CKCIE for the past few years, Barkley said she worked with seven different schools. While she loved being able to help across a variety of schools, she said she misses working with the same kids at the same place everyday.

“Having just one building and one team, (I think) I can have more of an impact,” Barkley said.

A life leading to education

From an early age, and while attending USD 305, Barkley said she knew she wanted to have a career in education.

“I had really good teachers and knew from very early on that I wanted to be a teacher,” Barkley said.

That dream has led to a pursuit in learning about education at places around Kansas, with Barkley earning a bachelor’s degree in special education at Kansas Wesleyan University, a master’s degree in educational administration from Fort Hays State University and an education specialist degree from Emporia State University.

But it’s been her time working as an educator, especially in the district she attended, that has solidified her passion.

“It’s been fun, just the last few years, going to different schools that I’ve been at, seeing the changes and seeing some of my old teachers,” Barkley said. “They’ve all made a big impact on me.”

Barkley said she owes a lot of this passion to her teachers growing up, particularly her third grade teacher, Mrs. Denning and her fifth grade teacher, Karen Olson.

“I actually did my student teaching with (Olson), which was really cool,” she said.

A love to see children succeed

Another reason that Barkley said she was excited to be moving into this new position and into one building is that she can witness the achievements of students.

“I love when children make gains, whether that’s a very tiny gain or big gain, any kind of success should be celebrated,” Barkley said. “Whether that’s as a class as a whole or individually, I think it’s really important.”

Barkley said as a principal she wants to be seen not just as a disciplinarian of the building, but as someone who students know will be proud of them for the ways they gain.

“(I want to) celebrate those small successes,” Barkley said. “I want to be someone that the kids can come celebrate with if they do something good in the classroom or they make improvement in something.”

Finally, Barkley said she is excited to be part of the community that Meadowlark Ridge is and to be able to give back to the community she has gained so much from.

“Those teachers have a lot of experience, so I’m excited to learn from them,” Barkley said. “I would love to be able to be that person that a first grader says, ‘Hey, I can’t wait to be a teacher someday,’ doing that for kids the same way it was done for me.”

Barkley officially begins at Meadowlark July 1. Deena Hilbig, the current principal at the school accepted the position of superintendent of Ellsworth Public Schools.

This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: New elementary principal, Heather Barkley a product of Salina Schools

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