The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Heather Wolery: Big Sandy School's Princpal


November 18, 2020

Several years ago, Heather Wolery read "Pete the Cat's Groovy Guide to Life" during her speech to Big Sandy's graduating class. She chose the book because when she started teaching 3rd grade at FE Miley Elementary School, it was one of the books she read to her class. 9 years later, she was their principal, and she chose to send them off with the same words of wisdom she used to teach them years before. Throughout the talk, she related the tidbits of wisdom and famous quotes to different students individually. She spoke to each of them with a familiarity that made it clear that she still knew them well and was able to talk to them meaningfully. This attention and affection for kids is a hallmark of Heather's style as an educator and now as a principal.

Heather came to Big Sandy in 2008. She started out teaching third grade for four years before teaching kindergarten for another three. She is now in her fourth year as principal. She had always wanted to be a teacher and had no intention of going into administration, despite the encouragement of her father. "My dad told me for years that I should get my masters degree in education. Then Brad Moore came when Pam Bold used to be the head teacher over here. When she retired, Jennifer Darlington came and was head teacher for a year. After that, Brad came and asked if I would be head teacher over here. Then he came and said our enrollment was growing, so he couldn't be the superintendent and the principal. There was too much to do. 'If I could send you to school to be an administrator would you want to be the principal with me?' So I was like: 'That sounds great.' Then I told my dad that I was going to be the principal and he said: 'Yeah. I've been telling you that for years.'"

Heather loves the work she does as principal over Big Sandy Schools, but she has found the work to be very different from her days as a teacher: "You solve way different problems. There's lots of times I kind of just wish I could just worry about what was in my classroom walls instead of the whole thing. But there's a lot that's still the same. You still deal with a lot of the same issues. I guess it's more dealing with adults instead of children. That's probably more of what I manage anymore."

Her approach to the job is far from the stereotypical strict principal of yesteryear. She tends to emphasize relationship as a means of motivating kids and engaging with families. "That's one of the big things about Ms. Wolery. She's not gonna be very stern or disciplinarian. But I think if you build a good relationship with kids, it goes a long way. Then they don't want to let you down. They want to make you happy and please you. I'm probably not a typical principal." When it comes to working with families, Heather points to her relational approach as a key aspect of her work: "I probably am the first one that deals with parents. I feel like I've been here long enough, and I have lots of good relationships with parents, so that always helps when you have to deal with them in a tough situation." This relational approach is embodied in the "Kind lessons" she did with her elementary students as a teacher and later with several of the high school classes since becoming principal. The focus of these lessons is treating each other with kindness.

Heather initially came to Big Sandy because she wanted to live closer to her home town, Rudyard. She started her teaching career in Hinsdale, Montana after attending college at Concordia and later finishing her studies at Northern. "I taught K to 12 Art, K to 8 PE, 7th grade math, and I coached everything. I helped at church. I did a lot of things for three years. Then I moved to Shepherd, and I taught kindergarten. Then I was ready to come closer to home, but not ready to come home. I wanted to come closer. My parents live in Rudyard."

"The year I decided to move closer to home, there was a job in North Star and there was a job here. Sherry Heppner's sister worked with me in Shepherd. So she called Sherri and said "I know this girl who is looking for a job," and they had this job in third grade open. So, I decided to take the third grade job because I had been teaching kindergarten and third grade which was what was available there. I signed my contract and my cousin looked at me and said: "So you're going to be a Pioneer?" And I said: "Ugh! I hate the Pioneers!" However, the old school rivalry didn't affect her relationship with our community. "I think Big Sandy is an amazing community. They just work so hard to help each other out here. One of the first things that was here when I came, they had a big benefit for somebody up at the fire hall. I was overwhelmed by what people will do for each other here. I find that they're very welcoming and forgiving and helpful. You can just be who you are. Very loving... I feel very welcomed here." She now proudly proclaims: "I love being a Pioneer." Though she confesses that she roots for her niece and nephews when they play for the Knights.

Heather and her partner, Shane Silvan, have been together for over 10 years. The pair knew each other before she came to Big Sandy and reconnected after she came to our town. They have two daughters, Lauri and Georgia. For fun, the family loves playing cards and board games. In particular, Heather enjoys cribbage. They also enjoy boating, camping, and other outdoor activities. They have a circle of friends who they join for camping several times a year. Heather loves to read, particularly non-fiction works. She is especially interested in biographies, histories, and the work of Malcom Gladwell. Her

favorite book is "Blind Your Ponies," a novel by a Montana author about a small town basketball team. She also plays piano and guitar.

Heather says she would love to stay in Big Sandy Schools for the long haul. "We have a really excellent elementary full of really great teachers who give a really good foundation for kids... they're a very good team. They work well together. They help each other. I think we have some really great teachers all the way through. We have some good community support. We have lots of good Pioneer pride. Great kids. We have really great kids."


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