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Whitacre right at home

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The new kid has made her first friend.

Robin Whitacre took over as principal of Aspen Elementary School less than a month ago, but she’s already interacting with students. One boy in particular – a summer school student Whitacre calls “my man” – received some personal attention from the principal last week when he needed help with a difficult assignment.

A quick conference helped the boy finish his class work and may even prevent him from repeating a grade, Whitacre said. The news kept a smile on her face for the rest of the morning.

“He just needed someone to say, `You can do it,'” Whitacre reported, her smile spreading.

Whitacre, 34, has an easy camaraderie with students – due, in part, to the fact that her own “inner child” shines through the administrator exterior. She laughs easily, tends to skip when the mood strikes and isn’t above a quick romp on the AES playground when work gets tough.

“We never wanted to grow up. That’s why we became teachers,” Whitacre laughed.

Whitacre spent her own grammar school days in Albuquerque, N.M., where her father split his time between a job with American Airlines and his real passion, his own art gallery in nearby Roswell. An airline merger relocated the family to St. Louis when Whitacre was 13, and the city has remained her unofficial hometown since.

Whitacre went to the University of Missouri with hopes of a career in journalism, but a part-time job brought a change of heart.

“Basically, I needed money, so I worked at a day camp during the summer. I just had a ball.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and spent six years teaching the second, fifth and sixth grades in California and Missouri. A common illness – “I was in my 20s, and I thought I could do better,” Whitacre laughs – led her to add an administrative degree to her resume.

“I couldn’t help but notice [some principals] were caught up in the business part of the school. I also think it’s important for principals to have classroom experience.”

After a yearlong stint as an assistant principal in Clayton, Mo., Whitacre returned home to St. Louis to serve as principal of Willow Brook Elementary School. Whitacre said she was soon overwhelmed by work, and rarely found time to spend with her husband of two years, Jeremy.

“You just miss something as a person when you don’t know how to balance,” she said.

A quick visit to Aspen last fall led Whitacre to apply for the AES job. She was hired in May to replace retiring principal Barb Pitchford.

Whitacre feared that she would experience a bit of culture shock after her move west. Instead, she adopted the Aspen Idea of lifelong learning – the town’s commitment to feeding mind, body and spirit – as her personal credo.

“That’s absolutely what I was looking for,” she said, noting that she’ll take part in an Aspen Institute seminar early next month.

She’s also ready to enjoy her summer vacation. The Whitacres received a cache of camping equipment as a wedding present, and they’re ready to put it to good use.

“As far as hobbies go, that’s pretty much why I’m here in Aspen,” Whitacre said. “We always knew we wanted to come to the mountains – we just didn’t know it would be so soon.”

Whitacre will wrap up her summer just in time for the first day of school on Aug. 26. On that day, she’ll welcome parents and students with an impromptu conference in the school cafeteria – refreshments will be provided, of course – that will allow the community to meet the new principal. (Those who can’t attend are invited to drop by her office to say hello over the next few weeks.)

Whitacre is one of many new additions to the district, including the incoming district superintendent (see related story). She hopes the district’s “freshman class” will help Aspen’s schools run smoothly.

“On one hand, there are a lot of us who will be learning a lot. On the other hand, it’s always good to get a fresh pair of eyes.

“Still, I think the teachers will train us okay,” she laughed.


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