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Elementary principal reflects on the simple joys of career

Sherry Libis has collected a lot of well-wishes during her tenure at Prairie Rose Elementary. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Sherry Libis has made a lot of great memories in her time as Prairie Rose Elementary's principal, resigning now to go spend more time with family. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

Sherry Libis shortly will be stepping down as principal of Prairie Rose Elementary school. She is resigning after 18 years in Dickinson and 31 years in education, a career that has taken her from Beach to Billings County.

She has seen the community through low points and high.

"I've probably been full circle in Dickinson, because many, many, many years ago, I remember sitting down at a table when enrollment was down so low that we were talking about closing the schools," Libis said. "Now to see where our district has gone in building schools and the growth that it has encountered, as troublesome as it may be to find enough teachers or to get everything to fit the right way ... I sit here in this beautiful school, Prairie Rose Elementary, and I have had the privilege of helping to open this school, and I think 'what an amazing gift to give the families to be able to attend a brand-new school' because never in my lifetime did I think that would ever happen, because I'd never been involved with that."

Libis' path toward pedagogy began as a child. She said that even when she was very, very young, she wanted to be a teacher, and she began teaching special education in Beach. She said that those experiences helped shape her approach to administration.

"For me, my background was special education, and working in the Beach school system where we worked with students from Home on the Range ... to me that brought a lot of experience and a lot of ways to view students," Libis said. "Those experiences—special ed teaching, working with students who may have had emotional issues or traumatizing issues—I feel that helps me be a better principal. I really try to figure out ... I feel more like that there's a reason for the behavior, and we need to peel back the layers and try to find that. I hope that I was able to help kids in that respect."

Libis will miss her time with the students the most, although she acknowledged that, paradoxically, she'll have more opportunities to visit with students and volunteer in classrooms. She departs now to spend more time with her family.

"Whether it's resigning or retiring—I'm not leaving Dickinson Public Schools, heading out to a private school. It will be a kind of retirement phase for me," Libis said. "For me, I do have some time before I reach the social security age—a little bit of a distance, but not that far away. I could see myself going and working in the next few years, I just don't know what that will be."

For her, the simple joys of being among children remain her happiest memories of her tenure.

"The kids, most definitely, I will miss. It's one of those jobs where you're lucky to walk down a hall or walk into a classroom, and there are kids who wave at you and smile at you and wanna hug you. They're excited to see you—it's a really good feeling," Libis said. " I like to watch the simple little things. We always say 'walk in the hallways' but when I see that kid skipping in the hallway, I just think, 'they're having a great day.'"

Libis said she will miss the great relationships she's formed with her faculty and staff, noting the challenge the teachers had to overcome with the increased number of students during the boom times. She also said she valued time spent among her fellow principals and the years she's been involved with the North Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals, for whom she served as president for a year.

As to the one who will eventually take over after her?

"Be a good listener," Libis advised. "That, I think, is the most important. It's listening to parents, listening to students and listening to faculty. To me if you can do that, if you can help collaborate with them, I think it makes for a very good workplace. It makes for an environment where people know you genuinely care, and I think in the long run that helps. It helps build the culture of your school."