Jefferson Elementary principal candidates connect with community

Four vie to fill spot vacated by Craig Nelson, who will leave after 15 years

MAGGIE QUINLAN, Evergreen reporter

Jefferson Elementary School held a forum Friday to introduce four candidates who are running for the principal position.

Craig Nelson, the school’s principal for the past 15 years, will be taking a position as a principal in Puyallup. The candidates to replace Nelson are Jim Bruce, Debbie Crabtree, Stephanie Kubej and Matt Ziegenfuss.

Jim Bruce

Bruce has lived in the Lewiston/Clarkston area for 15 years, working as an elementary school teacher and later as an elementary principal.

Bruce received his master’s degree in educational administration from University of Idaho and his wife is currently employed at WSU. He considers Pullman close to his heart, but has worked in the Richland School district in the Tri-Cities since 2004.

“This would be an opportunity to come to an area that is very near and dear to me,” he said.

Bruce said he brings to the table an entire career focused on elementary level education along with a positive, supportive attitude toward students. He said research shows that student-teacher relationships is very important in learning outcomes.

“We’ll be implementing a cultural belief that every child is capable of success,” he said. “If we have adults that believe in kids, those kids are going to do well academically, socially and emotionally.”

Bruce hasn’t always followed this career path. He planned to be a physical teacher in his youth, but changed his mind.

“At my first practicum, I said ‘This is it!’ I loved it,” Bruce said.

Bruce said he is not afraid to dress up as a chicken or dye his hair pink to reward students for their successes.

Deborah Crabtree

Deborah Crabtree currently teaches at Sunnyside Elementary School, where she also works as a principal intern. As an intern, she focuses on instructional and behavioral coaching.

Crabtree received her bachelor’s degree at University of Idaho and a master’s degree of education at Grand Canyon University.

Crabtree said as principal she would focus on “the whole child” rather than academics alone. She also said it is important to teach students how to cope with and process emotions.

At Sunnyside Elementary, she and her team have brought in a consulting firm that teaches staff common language for emotional support.

“We’re here for our kids to give them that loving, caring environment where they feel comfortable to learn,” she said.

Crabtree said creating the right learning environment for students does not happen through individuals.

“Education is like a team sport,” she said. “The principal is the coach. Everyone sharing their expertise is what makes a great team.”

Crabtree said that during the candidates’ tour of Jefferson Elementary, she saw many former students and wants to broaden her impact.

“As a teacher, you get to impact 25, 30 kids every year.” she said. “As a principal, you can make a meaningful impact in hundreds of kids’ lives every year.”

Stephanie Kubej

Stephanie Kubej grew up in Spokane and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Washington University.

Kubej worked as a news anchor early in her career. After having three kids and becoming a volunteer at their schools, she decided to make education her career.

Kubej received her master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Washington. There, she worked as a teacher and administrator at several schools and has been an interim principal at Balboa Elementary School in Spokane for the past year.

“I support my teachers like you cannot believe,” she said. “That’s why I got into administration because I saw teachers not being supported.”

As principal at Jefferson, Kubej said she would create a strong, collaborative culture for learning. She said it is important to take time to develop strong relationships with each teacher and to get to know the current culture at Jefferson.

Kubej said it is also valuable for every student to have a relationship with their principal.

“I will sit down, look through a yearbook and memorize every student’s name and face.” she said. “That relationship is important to me.”

Matt Ziegenfuss

Matt Ziegenfuss grew up in a family of teachers in Pennsylvania. As a young man he hoped to be a professional athlete until he realized education was the route for him.

Ziegenfuss received his bachelor’s degree at Moravian College in Pennsylvania and his teaching and administrative certificates at Seattle Pacific University.

He has worked as a coach, teacher and assistant principal. He also has experience as a principal at the high school, middle school and elementary levels. Ziegenfuss said he and his wife are looking for a small town to raise their children.

As principal, Ziegenfuss said his humility would be his greatest strength.

“I don’t know it all, so I learn from my team and teachers,” he said.

He also said he will encourage his staff to read books written by experts.

While Ziegenfuss supports learning from experts, he said his main goal is to encourage leadership and strong character in his students, especially by taking time to recognize those who display high moral.

Ziegenfuss believes his perspective as a father of young kids and his love for children helps him to be a good principal.

“The kids are what motivate me,” he said at the forum. “And I’m passionate about taking on a challenge.”