COLUMBIA — It has been 12 years since Mary Korth-Lloyd, the principal at Rock Bridge Elementary School, has had her own classroom. But every year, she's missed it a little more.
So, when a teacher at Rock Bridge decided to take a leave of absence this coming year, Korth-Lloyd got to wondering whether she could take the job. With the whole summer to work with administrators, the PTA and teachers on her leadership team, everything fell into place.
On Monday, when students return to Columbia Public Schools for the first day of classes, Korth-Lloyd will get back to her roots teaching first grade.
“The love of the classroom is really where it all starts,” she said on a recent Friday morning as she sorted books into crates based on reading level. To recreate her classroom, Korth-Lloyd dug out boxes from her teaching life that she kept over the years. Posters, books, stuffed animals, miscellaneous learning tools — all went into turning Room 15 into her place for teaching and learning.
Korth-Lloyd has been the principal at Rock Bridge Elementary for six years and was assistant principal for two years before that. She knows that she will have to get reacquainted with curriculum and policies, but the prospect of teaching again excites her.
“When they ‘get it,’ it gives me goose bumps,” Korth-Lloyd said.
Once a literacy coach, she said her favorite subjects to teach are reading and writing. “It’s so much more than knowing their letters and sounds,” she said.
Emily Reynolds, who teaches first-grade at Rock Bridge Elementary, saidt it will be an adjustment for everyone, but the teachers are happy for Korth-Lloyd to walk in their shoes again. She thinks the bigger change will be for the students who know her as principal.
Korth-Lloyd took this into consideration when she found out she was able to take the teaching position. She sent a letter to the parents of her students and invited them to transfer classes if they thought it would be an issue. No one did.
“I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I want it to be the best first-grade year they could have.”
Reynolds said she thinks Korth-Lloyd will bring a lot to the first-grade team. “She will be a great resource,” Reynolds said. “She has seen all sides.”
As Korth-Lloyd steps down for the year, assistant principal Sally Phillips will step up and lead the elementary school with Ryan Link, who was hired on as acting assistant principal after his position as a district positive behavior support facilitator was cut.
“It’s a great situation for all three of us to get a great professional development experience,” Link said.
Phillips described the circumstances as a "win-win-win" situation and said she is honored to get to serve as principal for the year.
Phillips and Link have worked with Korth-Lloyd over the summer as a team to prepare for the upcoming school year. Although Korth-Lloyd will not have any administrative powers, she will act as a sounding board if needed.
The return to the classroom for Korth-Lloyd will also mean a return to the teacher salary schedule. After discussing it with her husband, she said she was too excited to pass up the opportunity, even if it means making some financial cutbacks for the year.
After that, Korth-Lloyd will return to the principal's office hoping to be a better leader.
Reynolds said she sees Korth-Lloyd’s return to the classroom as a good opportunity to “stay in touch with what teachers do every day” and wished more principals had the same opportunity.
“What we both do is important, but different,” " Reynolds said.
In the days leading up to the start of school, Korth-Lloyd has been doing double-duty, getting both the school and her classroom ready. But now, that's about done, and she's looking forward to getting to know the children and their families better.
"You can laugh every day," she said of teaching. "In what other job can you laugh every day and get hugs?"