Denise Wheeler Soars as Lydia Hawk Elementary School Principal

lydia hawk elementary
Denise Wheeler is the new Principal at Lydia Hawk Elementary School within North Thurston Public Schools.


By Amy Davidson, River Ridge High School intern

lydia hawk elementary
Denise Wheeler is the new Principal at Lydia Hawk Elementary School within North Thurston Public Schools.

“Mrs. Wheeler is different. But she’s a good different,” says a sixth grade student at Lydia Hawk. “She visits our class a lot, and makes sure we understand what we’re learning.”

She’s referring to Denise Wheeler- the new principal at Lydia Hawk Elementary School.

Originally from Minnesota, Mrs. Wheeler moved to Montana between her junior and senior year of high school, where her parents owned a small business. She has worked in Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, and now Washington.

She has two undergraduate degrees from the University of Montana-one in elementary education and one in forestry. She also has a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Montana.

Wheeler has been in education for over 30 years, and was brought to Washington in order to be closer to her daughter.

“My daughter has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in chemical engineering. She works as an engineer for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF) in Bremerton and is responsible for operating and maintaining a pure water production facility. She is also involved in recruiting new engineers for PSNS & IMF and participates in STEM activities at various locations,” explains Wheeler.

Mrs. Wheeler says that she was looking for elementary principal positions on the Association of Washington School Principals Website. There were 2 positions open in Public Schools. She researched the district, liked what she saw and thought it would be a good place to apply.

Her first impressions of Lydia Hawk were second to none. “I love, love, love Lydia Hawk,” she said. “I have an incredibly wonderful staff that really cares about students and will do just about anything for them! They also like and respect each other and are warm and welcoming to others. We are the most diverse elementary school in the district and have the highest poverty level which makes it an interesting place to work.”

Throughout the past 15 years, there have been three different principals at Lydia Hawk – Paula Quinn, Charles Harrington, and now Mrs. Wheeler.

Through those 15 years, students have always gone by the ABCD rules, and one of the first changes to Lydia Hawk this year was getting rid of the ABCD rules:

A: Act safely

B: Be respectful

C: Cooperate

D: Develop responsibility and do your best

The students are now being taught the ways of the SOAR rules.

S: Safety

O: Ownership

A: Aim high

R: Respect

“I like the SOAR rules,” says a fourth grader. “They’re easier to remember.” Mrs. Wheeler also agrees that the SOAR rules are simpler, and the word itself is more fitting for their school, considering their mascot is a Hawk. The team behind the change thought ABCD sounded too institutional, plus they liked the connection to their mascot. They also thought that SOAR was more unique.

Lydia Hawk is known as a Title I school, which means they aim to bridge the gap between low-income students, and other students. Types of students that might be served by Title I schools include migrant students, students with limited English proficiency, who have disabilities, are neglected, delinquent, at-risk or in need.

I asked her what she thought of the students at Lydia Hawk and she said, “They are so great! As I said earlier we are a very diverse school. Of our 455 students, 35% of our student population is white, 35% are Latino and 30% are Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander, Black, or 2 or more races. We have a poverty rate of 75%.”

Mrs. Wheeler is very excited to help the students at Lydia Hawk. “The students are well-behaved and have been very welcoming. I get lots of hugs every day, which is one of the perks of being at the elementary level.”

Her hobbies include golfing, reading, canoeing, gardening, attending the theater, upholstering, arranging flowers and arts and crafts. She also has a semi-hairless cat who loves to huddle under blankets!

Most importantly, she loves kids and is a huge advocate of public education. She says her main goal for this year is to learn about the community and school district and get her bearings. She also hopes to have learned all of the students’ names by the end of the school year.


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