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A passion for the kids

Debi Briggs-Crispin brings experience and enthusiasm to her new role as principal of Rosemont Ridge Middle School
by: Jim Hart, New Rosemont Ridge Middle School Principal Debi Briggs-Crispin stands near the school’s media center, where colorful flags of many nations hang over the school’s central space.

For the past three years, Debi Briggs-Crispin has worked with a person she admired greatly. She considered it a dream job that had been in the making for years.

Now she must step into the shoes of that person, who inspired her passion for her work.

She was hired recently as principal at Rosemont Ridge Middle School, where she has served as assistant principal.

The idea of a dream job came to her about 10 years ago when she was taking a university-level administrative course.

The instructor was Thayne Balzer, and at the time Briggs-Crispin told her classmates that it would be a huge gift if someday she could be able to work with him.

Fast forward to 2003, and her dream job became reality. Balzer hired Briggs-Crispin as his administrative partner at RRMS.

For the past three years, the two have been sharing the duties of leading the school.

'We developed an incredible partnership,' she said.

But as principal, she now must step into Balzer's 'big' shoes.

Briggs-Crispin says she expects to develop a similar partnership with new RRMS assistant principal Tim Fields as well as with the staff and students.

In fact, before the previous school year ended she met with the staff to begin answering the question: Where is this school going? And those discussions are continuing during the summer.

RRMS will be personalizing some of the goals that the district has set for its schools, she said. In other words, the school will develop some new directions for its students such as dividing advisory classes into small teams of four or five students who will support, challenge and encourage one another.

'We don't want to adopt a program,' she said, 'we want to create a culture.'

For students returning on the first day of school next month, the principal said, they should expect 'the same warm, embracing culture, and look forward to some new directions.'

Briggs-Crispin has a history of involvement in education, often holding three jobs while maintaining relationships with family and friends.

Since 1980, she has taught at the primary and middle school levels, directed an art institute and trained teachers as well as taught graduate courses at a local university.

After teaching second through sixth grades in the Gresham area for eight years, she became involved in the innovative curriculum at the Children's Art Institute in Gresham.

She began to train teachers to teach art in innovative ways, and it was in this position that she first contacted teachers from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, bringing her skills and knowledge to them beginning in 1988.

She said she was impressed with the dedication and commitment she saw in WL-WV teachers, and that prompted her to seek a position in the district.

'They had a strong desire to learn and grow as teachers,' she said. 'The teachers in this district really take pride in what they do, and want to continue to improve. I saw that in 1988, and I see it daily.'

Her time in this school district included three years at Stafford Primary, teaching third grade while continuing to teach at the art institute and train teachers at PSU.

In 1991, she moved to Boeckman Primary School in Wilsonville because she said she loved the blended classroom, teaching there for 10 years in grades 4-5 and organizing a local art institute each summer. She also continued to teach at PSU - night classes during the school year and weeklong intensive courses during the summer.

By 2001, she was specializing in art for grades 6-8 at Wood Middle School in Wilsonville.

'This was really an exciting time for me,' she said. 'I had never realized how much I loved middle school kids.'

But she soon recognized that she also was interested in administration, leading her to seek a license at PSU and a position in 2003 as assistant principal at Rosemont Ridge.

In her new position as principal, Briggs-Crispin will ask students to continue to develop a touchstone that was begun last spring.

The touchstone is the staff's way of giving students a voice in shaping their school's environment.

'The touchstone is (the students') statement of the expectations and culture of our school,' she said. 'During the first part of September, we are going to revisit that touchstone and make commitments to give it life.'

Even though Briggs-Crispin's priority order includes family, friends, school and the art institute, she is looking forward to adding a doctoral program to her workload.

Needless to say, her enthusiasm for education seems without boundaries.

'I am so passionate about the kids and the teachers,' she said. 'I have to stay connected.'