Principal, Central Middle School of Science, Anchorage, AK
B.Ed. Elementary Education ’96; M.Ed. Educational Leadership ’03
Hometown: Eagle River, AK
Fun Fact: Has 63 cousins
You could call Lisa Prince the poster child for UAA. All of her college diplomas are stamped with the University of Alaska Anchorage seal, and she continues to frequent UAA’s campus both as a student and an adjunct instructor.
Lisa grew up in Eagle River and graduated from Chugiak High School in 1991. She always excelled in her classes and even finished high school a year early, but admits that she didn’t like school. “Learning wasn’t hard for me, but I hated being in most classes,” Lisa said. “I understood the value of education but not the value of school.”
Though she was never a huge fan of school growing up, Lisa knew what she did like about school. She had a few phenomenal teachers that influenced her to start thinking about a career in education. “I knew that if there could just be more people like that kids would do so well,” Lisa said. She set out to become one of those people.
Lisa, who’s from a very large family (she has 63 cousins!), was the first in her family to attend college. Growing up, Lisa’s parents both worked and always provided the family with what they needed, but they made it clear to Lisa that if she were to go to college, paying the bill was up to her.
Her first job after high school was the not-so-glamorous job of changing diapers in the special education classroom of the same school she’s now principal of. Lisa worked multiple jobs to pay her way through her undergraduate years, ranging from writing newspaper articles, working as a library aide and delivering newspapers in the early morning hours.
She earned scholarships for her stellar grades, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the costs of her education. “I would sometimes go periods without eating because I couldn’t earn enough to pay for rent and groceries at the same time,” Lisa said. “It was really hard.” But she kept going. “I wanted something good for my life.”
Lisa has put in an exceptional amount of hard work to get to where she is today, and UAA has helped her gain the experience and education she needed to work up the rungs of the education system.
In one of her beginning teaching classes, the professor started his lecture by telling the class that only about 20 percent of them should be in the room. He said, “You need to look into your hearts and know that kids deserve the very best; if you are sitting here because you want to have summers off, then this isn’t the place for you. The very best people should be working with kids.” Lisa remembers thinking to herself, ‘Heck yeah, I deserve to be in this class!’
After earning her Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education in 1996, Lisa held several positions in the Anchorage School District before deciding to pursue her master’s degree at UAA.
Lisa hadn’t planned on becoming a principal, but when she had the opportunity to temporarily step in as an acting assistant principal, she reluctantly took it. When she was approached about the job, she was hesitant because she loved being in the classroom. Her colleague told her, “We need the very best teachers to become leaders of teachers.”
She enrolled in graduate courses at UAA to further her education, but this time around Lisa had a family to care for and a full-time job to keep track of. She said that the UAA College of Education was very accommodating and allowed her to change her course schedule so she could juggle all of her priorities appropriately.
“The flexibility that UAA provided was very helpful and I was able to go through the program pretty quickly,” she said. “If classes were only offered during the daytime, it would’ve ceased every opportunity I had for advancement. UAA is very accommodating to the needs of families and working students.”
She earned her Master of Education in Educational Leadership in 2003 and before the ink dried on her diploma she was promoted to principal at Wonder Park Elementary School. She had reached her goals: master’s degree before 30–check, principal job before 30–check.
Lisa still uses her professor’s speech today when she hires teachers and other support staff. “I want the very best people here, the ones who are the reason kids come to school–staff that notice when a kid gets a haircut and that take the time to stop a crying girl in the hallway to ask if she’s okay.”
Lisa loves working with students, but said she’s seen many of them struggle through school. “I understand how important it is for kids to be challenged,” she said. “Schools need to be individualized to meet the needs of their students. We need to create an environment where each kid feels noticed, like they’re contributing; a place where they feel like they’re special and that someone will notice and miss them if they’re not here.”
As principal of Central Middle School of Science, Lisa is responsible for 600 7th and 8th graders and 75 staff on a daily basis. The school’s curriculum focuses on two career pathways: construction and medicine, while integrating science across all curricular areas. Lisa is working to create a pipeline to get students from middle school to high school to college and has built partnerships with key community organizations, including Providence Alaska Medical Center, to help make that happen.
“We need to continue providing career pathways for our state, especially in health care,” she said. “Our goal is to provide opportunities for kids and give them exposure to a wide variety of topics so that when they get to high school they can start to focus their studies in areas that will lead to jobs.”
It’s no secret that many talented people leave Alaska for other opportunities in the Lower 48. As a principal and a mom, Lisa sings the praises of UAA to not only her own sons, but also her students.
“We don’t have enough people staying in Alaska,” she said. “UAA has a lot of really exceptional programs that are ranked at the top of the nation. We need to continue to support and expand the programs that we have here so we have a better chance of keeping our young people in Alaska.”
Lisa still frequents UAA’s campus. She’s interested in psychology and has taken several classes on the subject because she uses it daily in her job as a principal. She is also an adjunct instructor and is teaching a social studies methods course this summer.
She serves as a mentor to aspiring education administrators and hosts over 20 practicum and student teachers at Central Middle School of Science each year. “UAA has integrated beautifully with the Anchorage School District,” Lisa said. “For students to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals and get one-on-one shadowing experience is so important.”
A leader in the Alaska education community, Lisa was recently named the 2011 State of Alaska Middle School Principal of the Year after being nominated by fellow principals.