New Watertown-Mayer Elementary principal Katie O’Connell comes to the district with hefty credentials. From the College of Saint Benedict, with a Bachelor’s in elementary education, by way of St. Bart’s in Wayzata, after earning a master’s from St. Thomas, she began teaching in the Centennial District.
This school year will mark her 20th in education and first as an elementary school principal.
One of her most urgent initiatives will be refining WM Elementary’s literacy instruction practices. O’Connell says, “This summer, our staff is participating in professional learning on literacy and language in the science of reading. This professional development is called LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), and its focus is on providing teachers with the skills they need to master the fundamentals of reading and writing instruction. This training will strengthen our teachers’ knowledge of language structures and the correlation with the development of the brain. Our learning around this, in conjunction with collaboration and continued professional development, will enable us to better meet the needs of our students and ensure all students become skilled, proficient readers.”
O’Connell has a history of implementing reading programs. While working for Centennial, O’Connell spearheaded a district-wide reading intervention program. For this position, she provided additional reading services to students at all elementaries in the Centennial district.
This was a pivotal role for her. O’Connell says, “Through this position my spark for leadership was ignited.”
She began pursuing another master’s degree, again at St. Thomas, and then took a leadership position with Mounds View Public Schools. She served as an instructional coach at a kindergarten center, a district literacy and math coach, an elementary dean, and, most recently, as a building administrator. O’Connell says, “Each of these leadership positions involved leading and supporting teachers in improving instructional practices through coaching and professional development sessions, refining existing systems, making data informed decisions, coordinating resources, collaborating with colleagues, and partnering with families to best meet the needs of each of our students.”
Her past experiences will guide her well as principal. O’Connell will now oversee WM Elementary’s operations, instruction, and student support.
“I was drawn to Watertown-Mayer because of its mission of growth through connections and opportunities, because forming strong relationships is a core tenant of my educational beliefs,” says O’Connell. “I believe that relationships are the foundation on which everything else is built. It is essential that each and every child feels seen, valued, welcomed, respected, and that they belong in our school community. It is imperative that we forge strong relationships with families to partner in the education of their children. It was clear to me that Watertown Mayer was a strong community that was supportive of their schools and also valued partnership.”
She’s seen most of what education has to offer. She’s even seen some of the monkeywrenches mother nature can throw in. For example, one time a squirrel ate through her school’s main electrical line. No power in the building meant no school for the day. The kids got to go home. O’Connell says, “I’d never guess that we’d have a ‘snow day’… because of a squirrel.” That same week, a black bear was spotted on school grounds. Then, it wandered off, or so they thought. The fifth graders encountered it crossing the street as they walked home from a trip to the park.
No one was hurt, and for O’Connell, it’s all in a day’s work. “Working at a school is a fast-paced, ever evolving job,” she says. “Every day is filled with laughter and joy, excitement, and energy brought by the kids… in fact, most days, I need to bring a Monster energy drink to ensure I have enough energy to match the students’.”
And she’s excited to get to work. In May, she attended the Strides for Students fundraiser and interacted with WM Elementary’s students and staff. She says, “I am thrilled to be joining such a wonderful community and look forward to an amazing school year ahead.”