Jamie Boyd leads two South End schools in transition

Elementary School Principal Jamie Boyd will unify kindergarten through fifth grade into one smoothly-run system. - Jeff VanDerford
Elementary School Principal Jamie Boyd will unify kindergarten through fifth grade into one smoothly-run system.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

LANGLEY — If you are a small child and had done something bad in school, there are worse places to be than in principal Jamie Boyd’s office.

For starters, there’s a large, floppy tan-and-white stuffed pooch in one chair, his head on the table, snout pressed close to a ceramic red apple.

There’s a small fish — this one is live — swimming in endless circles inside its glass bowl.

And, there’s The Hat — a goofy piece of headgear with dolphins and an eagle representing the intermediate and primary sides of South Whidbey Elementary School.

Boyd wears it occasionally for classroom visits as a way to help break the ice.

“Diane Chin created this silly hat and it helps when I meet and greet the kids,” Boyd said.

“I’ve never met a child I thought could not be educated; that

I couldn’t make a connection with,” she added.

That ability may come in handy as she prepares to fuse two schools totaling 645 students into one unified whole.

Boyd was hired last summer as a way to smooth over a problem that first surfaced almost a year ago.

On Jan. 30, then Primary School principal Bernie Mahar resigned after she was placed on administrative leave. She has since been charged with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing kindergarten funds.

Jan McNeely and Val Brown were assigned as teacher-directors at both schools with Eric Nerison in overall charge as principal.

But with Nerison’s decision to return to teaching, the district began an intensive search process; Boyd got the nod over 21 other candidates.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said that Boyd surfaced early as a front-runner during the selection process.

“I’m very impressed with Jamie; she knows instruction and teaching and she’s doing an excellent job,” McCarthy said.

She was picked because she was the best qualified for the job, McCarthy added.

Though she’s been dealing on a daily basis with the nuts and bolts of administration, her main focus this year will be finding the best way to combine the two schools into a single elementary school.

“Things are exciting, just overwhelming,” she said in a recent interview. “It is amazing to work with these terrific teachers. Somewhere in these two buildings is someone who has the experience to answer any question. The rich knowledge base is daunting to me.”

She’s going to need that knowledge.

With enrollment declining across the board the last several years, the school board has decided to combine grades kindergarten through fifth into a single entity, the South Whidbey Elementary School.

Whether this will mean all students will be brought into a single building isn’t known yet. There are 17 fewer students at the Intermediate School than last year, 21 less at the Primary School. The district’s facilities committee is expected to announce a decision on either building’s eventual fate.

Boyd isn’t waiting.

She is hosting single meetings for both staffs, has started consolidating services and created teacher assistant teams that provide in-house staff support and coaching.

“I’m in the process of eliminating all the duplication of effort and budget that was in place,” she said. “We need to ‘re-culturize’ staff, parents and teachers as we bring the K-5 concept into reality,” she noted.

“My charge is to fuse both schools into one, whether we are physically together or not,” she explained. “It will take time but so far there hasn’t been any resistance; everyone appears to be on board.”

The hardest thing is the physical separation.

“I know it feels we’re apart because there are two buildings but I see them as one,” she said.

She’s been preparing for her new role for a long time. Boyd moved to Whidbey Island from New Mexico in 1993 and has spent 14 years in the public system, for the last seven as a special education teacher at the high school.

She has two bachelor degrees in education from Eastern New Mexico University and a master’s degree in school administration from the University of New Mexico.

When she was a high school junior, Boyd spent the summer working for a man whose son had a learning disability.

“I knew then that I wanted to teach special education,” she said.

During the 27 years since, she’s taught at every grade level — including a stint as interim principal at the Intermediate School eight years ago.

Her core belief is that all children can learn and that elementary school teachers are essential in the lives of young children.

“I’m a firm believer in getting students involved in their own education,” she said.

Shelly Ackerman, co-president of the South Whidbey Parent Teacher Association, said Boyd had a lot of energy and is easy to talk with.

“Coordinating the activities of both schools — their students, teachers and staff — will be a big job,” Ackerman said.

Cait Cassee has three children in the system and supports the concept of the multi-age classroom.

“I’ve heard some good things about Jamie,” she said. “I really hope she can devote time to strategic planning with a view to the diverse needs of all the kids.”

Boyd said she thinks the best thing she can do is keep her focus squarely on the business of education.

And about that big, floppy as-yet unnamed dog on her desk, Boyd said he really helps solve problems by putting students at ease.

“Everyone has to feel comfortable to ask a question about anything here in this office,” she said.

“There will be answers.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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