New AMS principal enjoys challenge of young adults | AspenTimes.com

New AMS principal enjoys challenge of young adults

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Many teachers and administrators find it difficult dealing with kids in their “tweens” – that difficult transition between childhood and the teenage years. But Phyllis Wannemacher has always enjoyed working with middle schoolers.

Wannemacher, who will take over as principal at Aspen Middle School next year, has plenty of experience with kids at this age. As the current principal at Carson Middle School in Fort Carson, Colo., and a former teacher for both the fifth and sixth grades, Wannemacher considers the “tweens” one of her favorite ages with which to work.

“The kids are so neat at the adolescent age,” she said. “It’s a time when they need a lot of adult supervision, and it’s also the time when adults often find that they’re not very attractive to be around.

“I like to spend a lot of time talking with students when they get a referral to the office. I try to spend time teaching them about how to resolve problems – I spend a great deal of time teaching in this position. I have the luxury of closing the door and spending 30, 40 minutes with a student.”

Wannemacher, a native of North Carolina, picked up her bachelor’s degree at the University of East Carolina. She ended up in Colorado to pick up her master’s in arts and humanities from Colorado College and a second master’s in counseling from the University of Colorado. Wannemacher accepted her first teaching job to work in a completely different environment – she ended up teaching the sixth grade at an inner city school in New Jersey for nearly five years.

“It really forced me to grow up quickly as a teacher,” Wannemacher said.

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She decided to stick with teaching children at the intermediate level – and move west – with her next job, teaching both fifth and sixth grades in Colorado Springs. From there, Wannemacher was able to branch out into administrative work.

She accepted the principal’s position at Carson Middle School just over five years ago.

“When I first came here, we were not doing the state standards assessments – CSAPs – and it became my job to help the teachers align the curriculum to the state standard,” she said.

Wannemacher also helped implement a quarterly monitoring system that allows the school to track student progress. The system led to a new remedial program for struggling students and led to improved test scores.

Carson Middle School was one of only three intermediate schools to be recognized for outstanding CSAP scores, Wannemacher said.

Wannemacher applied for the AMS job in early March. She was screened by the school district’s hiring firm before being invited for interviews.

She was offered and accepted the position on Monday, just a few hours before a formal announcement was made at a meeting of the Aspen School Board. Wannemacher, who teaches outdoor education at national parks during her summers off, said she jumped at the chance to move to Aspen.

“I love the outdoors,” she said. “I’m very active – I bike, downhill ski, cross country ski, snowshoe, jog. It sounds like the middle school has a fantastic program for outdoor education.”

Wannemacher said one of her first orders of business at AMS will be to gauge public opinion about the school.

“I’m coming with an open mind,” she said. “I want to come in to listen, observe, and talk to a lot of parents and teachers. I believe in going into a job with no biases.

“I do welcome all kinds of input, so they would be very welcome to come in and talk with me. I know that parents are feeling some anxiety about their children’s progression – my guess is some parents would like to have more challenges for their students … I feel like I can be a real innovator and motivator in doing that in Aspen. It’s going to take some time to find out what the needs are, but we’ll work toward some conclusions and try not to do damage to some things that are already working.”

Wannemacher – along with her African parrot and her giant schnauzer, Hannah – will make the move to Aspen early this summer.