Stilwell principal is students’ biggest cheerleader

Stilwell Grade School Principal Mark Lea carries his lunch tray, after congratulating the student participants in the Future Chef competition. Renee Fite | Democrat Journal

Mark Lea truly enjoys being with students and interacting with them every day.

The principal at Stilwell Grade School for 12 years, Lea has also been a coach and history teacher during his career.

Before coming to Stilwell, he taught 21 years at Zion, coaching and teaching history and geography. He earned a Bachelor's of Science in Education and a Master’s degree in Secondary Education from from Northeastern State University.

Lea’s all about the kids, from creating an inviting atmosphere where they can thrive, to motivating them though accomplishments and positive experiences – a "coach approach" to education.

But he’s really their biggest cheerleader. Learning starts with trust, he said.

“Building trust in the students is probably the most important aspect to teaching – building those relationships to create a positive atmosphere and open lines of communication,” Lea said.

Children are the priority, as is understanding them.

“Stilwell Grade School is the place for your student to be. The atmosphere is inviting, the teachers are tremendous and motivated to have their students reach their potential. I tell my staff all the time they are all-stars and we lead the way in childhood education. We care about the whole child,” Lea said.

It’s also a good place to work.

“Stilwell Grade School is such a great place for our teachers because we are a family. We laugh and cry with one another, get through personal struggles and pick each other when needed," he said.

The teachers not only work together, but are personal friends and have one another's back.

“The students, with their teachers in home rooms, have that 'parent away from home' feel. They are nurtured and given security to have an outstanding learning experience,” Lea said.

Lea encourages parents to read to their kids.

“I wish more parents would know to read to their kids each night. Their student’s vocabulary and reading ability greatly improves by just listening to their parents read to them,” Lea said.

As principal, Lea’s responsibilities range from the day-to-day running of the grade school, to evaluations, to transportation, to cafeteria duties and safety/security of the grounds and students and discipline.

“Discipline at the grade school starts with open communication, so that we can get at the root of the issue at hand. I have some of the best counselors around, and we want to help each and every student succeed,” he said.

The school motto embraces encouragement and helping children thrive.

“Problems one day do not extend to the next day. Our motto is, ‘It is a new day and a new beginning,’" he said.

One issue that reoccurs regularly in the state is consolidation.

“The rural schools are the center of those communities and sometimes the only thing that keeps that community alive,” he said.

There will always be an argument about school consolidation and budgeting by the State Department of Education and how to better use resources.

“If consolidation is to happen the state will need to budget more monies to schools for expansion of classroom space to accommodate all the students,” Lea said.

Lea also is a father and grandfather. He's married to Jo Lea. They have a daughter, Rachel Fletcher, and a son, Matt Lea, along with one "tremendous" granddaughter, Archer.

To relax, the educator likes to fish, work in his gardens, and woodwork.

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