Lee Brown, Big Woods Elementary School’s inaugural principal, is retiring.
Brown started teaching in STMA in 1988, teaching fifth and sixth grade and tutoring at the district’s middle school. She said the communities were just “tiny little farm towns” at that point, and the district served around 70 students per grade level.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said of her years teaching elementary and middle school. “I loved every day of work. It was a really good variety.”
Brown taught for nine years before becoming the elementary level dean of students; then, in 2003, she was hired as principal of the newly-approved Big Woods Elementary. She guided the school through the design, construction and hiring phase in her first year as principal and has been its dedicated leader since its opening in September 2004.
“Ms. Brown is one of the most skilled administrators that I have had the pleasure to work with in my 25 years of education,” Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said. “She is a fierce advocate for elementary students and staff and is known for her strong work ethic and stellar communication skills.”
Brown said she followed her mom’s footsteps into the education field. Her mother taught kindergarten and first grade until she was nearly 70 years old, and both of her parents spent time as school board members.
“I grew up hearing about education,” Brown said.
Big Woods’s office staff reports being grateful she had her parents’ footsteps to follow into the profession, as they spoke highly of their time under her leadership.
“We will truly miss Lee’s mischievous sense of humor and the fun dynamic she brought to our office team,” office staff Carol Newman and Katie Jacobs said. “She has been a strong leader for both the students and staff of Big Woods.”
“I’ve enjoyed my opportunity to work with such a great principal,” said Dean of Students Andy Kelley. “Lee has been an excellent mentor to me. She’s done an excellent job of leading the school community.”
Favorite Memories and Experiences
Of all the experiences she’s had as the school’s leader, Brown said her favorite part of the job has always been the kids.
“We laugh every single day here,” Brown said, “and it’s just because of the kids and the things they say and do.”
Other notable experiences she remembers fondly include hosting the district’s ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) program for 10 years and setting up the new Pathways Program for higher level special needs this year. She said those programs have taken an incredible all-staff effort, from the cooks and custodians to the support staff, office staff and teachers, to make it a success.
Brown said her proudest moments as principal have come as she’s seen Big Woods students go out of their way to be helpful and accepting with their special needs peers.
“It’s incredibly important for kids to learn that skill early and to have that empathy,” she said.
As for what comes next for Brown, she doesn’t yet have a clear picture of what retirement will hold.
“I don’t know, but for me it feels really good not to have a plan,” Brown said.
She does plan to spend as much time as possible with her mom, refocus on personal fitness and volunteer, among other possibilities.
Brown will officially retire at the end of September in order to fulfill the requirements to retire under the “Rule of 90,” which allows public workers to retire early with no pension penalties if the sum of their age plus years of service totals at least 90. The new principal, Jesse Peterson, will begin Aug. 15, and Brown will spend her final six weeks helping him transition into his new role.
“I absolutely love what I do, but I’m ready for a change,” Brown said. “With the long hours, it’s really time for someone with more energy to come in. Peterson has a really dynamic personality and lots of energy. I got a really good feeling when I met him, and I’m excited he’ll be at Big Woods.”
Students helped Brown celebrate her retirement in a few different ways, including creating books for her and surprising her at the year-end assembly with a personalized song written by Big Woods’s PTO President, Stacey Anderson, to the tune of The Greatest Showman’s “A Million Dreams.”
“Ms. Brown is a compassionate, thoughtful, organized, creative person,” Anderson said. “I am continuously amazed at her dedication to our community and our kids. Big Woods is a better place because of her example.”
“Ms. Brown has positively impacted the lives of thousands of STMA students,” Foucault said. “When she retires … she will leave a remarkable legacy behind and one which will remain with us for years to come.”