Paula Seaman, principal of Hillcrest Elementary, helps first grader Milana Blatt cross the monkey bars during recess Wednesday in Oak Harbor. Photo by Daniel Warn

Oak Harbor administrator named regional principal of the year

Hillcrest Elementary School Principal Paula Seaman is 2017 Regional Principal of the Year for elementary schools, awarded the honor by the Association of Washington School Principals.

“When I got the phone call about the award, I started laughing because I thought it was a joke,” Seaman said to a gathering of staff and faculty last week.

She received the honor from Oak Harbor schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon.

This honor placesSeaman in the running for state Elementary Principal of the Year. If she receives that award, she advances to a national competition.

“Kids love being at Hillcrest,” Gibbon said. “They have learning opportunities there that I think aren’t available in many other schools around the state.”

“She really is an inspiration to her staff,” Gibbon said. “She is an individual who does see possibilities where other people just see barriers. She’s an innovator, creative thinker, problem solver, and that’s what’s allowed her to take this school to a level of success that it just really hasn’t seen.”

“Hillcrest is a very unique school,” Seaman said. “It is everybody working together that makes this run, so it’s hard to take an award like this, because it really is not about me.”

Gibbon said he worked with Seaman when she was a teacher on special assignment, managing a district defense grant.

As a result of her work on the grant, Seaman’s colleagues encouraged her to pursue a career in administration.

Gibbon said that the school’s success, and Seaman’s recognition, are partially because of the programs she has instilled in the school, many of which focus on environmental sustainability.

Seaman developed a school garden and a “Green Team,” a group devoted to sustainable school practices, Gibbon said.

“I don’t know where you’ll find another school that has chickens,” Gibbon said.

The students collect eggs from the chickens and donate the food to North Whidbey Help House, a food bank in Oak Harbor.

Gibbon said Seaman also spearheaded Hillcrest’s participation in the Washington Green Schools program, which, according to its website, encourages Washington state students to work toward greener, healthier school environments.

In 2015, Seaman led Hillcrest to national recognition as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, making it one of just four from Washington state receiving the honor, according the USDE website.

Instead of basking in the glow of her accomplishments, Gibbon said Seaman prefers to show off the work of her students.

“Really one of the most special things about Paula is how she puts kids first and always makes sure that they’re the focus and in the spotlight,” Gibbon said. “A good example of that is anytime we’ve done these presentations for Green Schools … Paula will always put the students out front and make sure that they get the credit for the work they’re doing,

“Likewise, she always puts the staff out front and gives them the credit,” Gibbon said. “She’s an incredibly humble person.”

“My philosophy really focuses on kids and what the kids’ needs are,” Seaman said. “What are their differentiating needs? What are the individual needs of all students?

“We have to be able to teach outside of a box to meet the needs, not just academically, but the social and emotional needs of the kids,” she said.

“If they’re not safe at school, they’re not going to learn.”

Paula Seaman, principal of Hillcrest Elementary, accepts the honor of Regional Principal of the Year from OHSD Superintendent Dr. Lance Gibbon in front of her staff and faculty last week in Oak Harbor. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

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