Kalispell educator Tracy Ketchum has had the uncommon experience of moving between roles as teacher and administrator over her career.
She currently teaches second grade at Elrod Elementary, but on July 1 she will return to administration as the new principal of Peterson Elementary.
Previous to her teaching position at Elrod, Ketchum was principal at an Idaho school district for six years, and before that dean of students and athletic director — but her career began in the classroom.
“I think in a perfect world we would cycle in and out [of the classroom] to get a better perspective,” Ketchum said.
She made the move from Kellogg, Idaho to Montana after her husband, Cal Ketchum, accepted a position as superintendent of West Valley School District in 2012.
“Coming to Montana was a brand new experience so it was good to come back to the classroom and just get my feet back in and touch base with the reasons we get into it in the first place,” she said.
Going back to the classroom has made her better equipped in understanding Montana’s and Kalispell Public School’s learning standards and culture.
“And just get back to the roots of relating to what the teachers are going through,” Ketchum said, from the challenges to the joys.
When the Peterson principal position opened Ketchum said she was encouraged by her peers to apply. Current Peterson Principal Rick Anfenson is retiring at the end of the school year where he has served for 12 years, capping a 41-year career in Kalispell Public Schools.
“That’s a good transition when someone is happily retiring,” Ketchum said. “The time that I’ve had with them [Peterson is] just a warm, friendly, open building with a lot of enthusiastic teachers.”
Ketchum holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary and secondary education and a master’s in administrative leadership. As an undergrad, however, she started in a different direction.
“In college I didn’t start in education. I was in bacteriology with a med-tech option,” Ketchum said, noting that she didn’t make the switch until junior year of her undergraduate studies. “My parents were both educators and wanted me to go into education and thought it would be just a great fit for me — and as many typical teenagers do — I did the exact opposite.”
All it took were the young minds of preschool students to change hers.
“I ended up taking a class in college where I worked with the preschoolers on campus and I loved it. Just loved it. So I switched my major and went into education. I’ve never regretted it,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said she is excited to get back into a leadership role and has missed serving in that capacity.
“You can reach more people,” she said.
“As a principal you step back and widen that circle, so now you have an opportunity to really work with teachers and just help them reach their capacity for growth and leadership.”
“Collective leadership” is how Ketchum describes her approach as a principal, meaning “... building the capacity of others to lead, so that we’re working together to do it.”
The first item on her list when she assumes her new duties in July is to “get to know the staff and the workings of the school and really build those relationships.”
In the first year, Ketchum’s goal is to reinforce and support what’s in place at Peterson and work with teachers to identify any areas for growth or improvement.
“I’m just excited to start this little path that I’m on — excited and honored,” Ketchum said.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.