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Principal leaves lifetime of education

by: Jim Hart, Cedaroak Park Primary School Principal Sharon Newman is pictured in her favorite position, sharing her love for kids. Here she discusses a joyful topic with two first-graders, Thomas Lesser, left and Peyton Fastaband.

Sharon Newman, who has announced her retirement in June, has been an educator for her entire life.

As principal of Cedaroak Park Primary School for the past decade, Newman can remember decades in the past before she was in kindergarten.

That was a time of formation for the young girl when she spent hours under the shade of a birch tree in a quiet residential neighborhood on Columbine Street in Denver, Colo., pretending that she was in school.

'I remember playing school every day for entire summers,' she said. 'That was a foreshadowing of who I was to become.'

When other little girls were playing house, Sharon was playing school. She took turns playing student and teacher and never tired of the creative routine.

'I just always knew from the time I was little that I wanted to be a teacher,' she said, 'even before I went to school. And that never changed for me. I always had my heart set on working in schools.'

After graduating from college in 1968, Newman began her career in an Ohio classroom. For the past 40 years she has been doing her heart's work mainly full-time, switching to part-time temporarily to raise her two children.

Newman has taught in several states in public and private schools at high school, middle school and elementary levels; she has taught adults and teen-age mothers as well as at a pre-school, and once joined a school experimenting with an alternative, college-style schedule. She also has taught at private all-boys and all-girls schools and has supervised student teachers.

'Not many people crossed that line back-and-forth between private and public,' she said. 'But I've really enjoyed both.'

The major differences, she says, include fewer responsibilities as a principal in public schools and much more to know, understand and do to accommodate special-needs students in public education.

'(Initially) I didn't understand the important way that public schools serve and help children of all abilities to maximize their potential,' she said.

She obviously has been around the block, and while in training to earn a master's degree in educational administration at Lewis and Clark College she worked in many schools in nine separate school districts.

'Most master's candidates,' she said, 'worked in one school, but I wanted to see what level I really wanted. I also wanted to see what really excellent principals did, so I shadowed principals in 25 schools.'

Teaching methods have evolved quickly over the years, especially in the last 10 years while Newman has been at Cedaroak. But her philosophy hasn't changed very much.

'(My philosophy) is basically the same as it was 20 years ago,' she said. 'It's the idea of teaching the whole child - to get to know and appreciate each student enough to know what they're capable of doing and then taking them as far as you possibly can.'

During the past decade, Newman said the education community has learned well how to do academic assessments of children.

'These are methods that I didn't know how to do when I was a teacher,' she said. 'Now, we can literally diagnose difficulties with reading or writing and address anything that holds a child back.'

Teachers today, Newman says, are so well educated and supported with brain research that they know so much more than the teachers of yesterday.

The result - especially at

Cedaroak - is happy children, she said, and teachers who maximize the use of class time.

'I have tried to mentor our teachers to engage the children in their learning,' she said. 'Also to be sure that the skills and concepts being taught are very solid and the teaching strategies represent the best practices of all that research.'

With fewer hours of work in her retirement, Newman will have time to correct some medical conditions that now limit her ability to be very active with children.

'I have unlimited energy and passion for this job,' she said, 'but I need time to maintain my health.'

In retirement, Newman says she'd like to continue in some form of education, just fewer hours than she now has as principal.

'I don't think I'll ever leave schools,' Newman said. 'I couldn't (retire) cold-turkey and not be in school. I think when I'm 90, if I'm able, I will be volunteering in a school - doing something to help kids.'