BRIDGEPORT — Sitting in Christy Wilkins’ office at Luckiamute Valley Charter School’s Bridgeport campus on a bustling Monday morning, you can hear children playing during recess.
For Wilkins, LVCS’ new executive director, it’s confirmation of why she wanted to join Luckiamute Valley. For some school administrators, being around students isn’t a daily occurrence, she said.
At LVCS, she can just step outside her office and turn a corner and find a class of students on the playground or headed to the cafeteria.
“I like the fact that in my job, I’m around kids,” she said. “I’m surrounded by students and reminded every day why I’m here and why I took this job.”
Wilkins found early in her education career that she had a passion for helping students navigate challenges in their life and education.
“I started out as a high school English teacher. I loved teaching, but I also loved getting to know the kids,” Wilkins said. “I found my students wanting to hang around during lunch and my preps, and I had the opportunity to get to know the students personally and hear about their lives and be a source of support for them and their families.”
Soon, she went back to school to earn a master’s degree in counseling.
“I’ve worked as counselor at every grade level, elementary, middle and high, and I loved the work and the opportunity to provide social and emotional support for students who were struggling with that issue,” Wilkins said.
She’s still making use of what she learned as a counselor, saying that experience gives her insight into student behavior and the ability to help teachers with students.
“I think it’s great training to move into a leadership role,” she said. “The listening and problem-solving, conflict resolution, all of those skills can be applied in my work as an administrator.”
Wilkins spent much of her career in traditional public schools, working 11 years in the Cascade School District, 13 years in the Newberg School District, and in schools in Washington state before that.
Making the transition to a charter school has been a learning experience, but one she’s welcomed.
“I’ve always been interested in charter schools and alternative school settings,” she said. “I was interested in working in an environment that provided more flexibility for meeting the needs of diverse learners, more creativity.”
Before she arrived, the LVCS board had already committed to bringing in art and science, technology and math enrichments for students with the goal of adding more in the future.
“I was really inspired by that,” she said. “I know as an experienced administrator and educator that you need to provide multiple strategies to engage some students, and not every student learns the same.”
She said that LVCS’ two campuses in Bridgeport (K-5) and Pedee (6-8) allow the schools to provide more outdoor learning experiences without leaving school grounds. Classes can build lessons around exploring the nearby river, and there’s space for greenhouses and gardens.
“Because of the location, we have the opportunity to do things that traditional schools do not,” she said.
Wilkins said she was pleased to have joined a school with an active board, an engaged parent group and a supportive charter sponsor in Dallas School District, and what she believes is the key to education: Good teachers and good teamwork.
“Successful schools are successful collaboration with many, many players,” she said.
So far in the young school year, Wilkins believes LVCS she’s been gifted with that, too.
She gives special credit to Jenneca Crawford and Steve Diehl, principals at Bridgeport and Pedee respectively, for helping her get on her feet since she took over the job in late July.
“They’ve been my partners while I ride my learning curve,” she said.
Wilkins said her goal for her first year with the school is to learn from her teachers and staff members and to increase parent and community involvement in the schools.
Above all, though, she wants to support the school’s mission in classrooms.
“I think the classroom is the heart — a teacher and students in a classroom are the heart of both schools,” she said. “Anything outside of that zone, we’re here to support the teaching and learning that goes on.”