The query intrigued Waldrop — What are some of the most unusual things you have encountered while serving as principal?
“Something unusual happens in this position every day,’’ Waldrop finally said with a smile.
She then added that the unexpected twists and turns in the daily life of a high school principal are what make it at once exhilarating and exhausting.
The unpredictable journey that has been the principal’s life the past 2 -1/2 years is entering its home stretch. Waldrop recently announced she will retire at the end of June. The move will cap a 35-year career with the La Grande School District, one which started in 1979 when she was hired as a home economics teacher. Waldrop later served as assistant LHS principal for about seven years before becoming principal in July 2011.
Her decision to step down is not one she made lightly.
“I really have mixed emotions about retiring,’’ Waldrop said.
She speaks fondly of her staff and the chance to make a difference in the lives of her students, but dishearteningly about the time demands of her job, which prevents her from spending more time with her husband, Doug, their three sons and a daughter and seven grandchildren. Waldrop, who arrives at LHS each school day at 6:30 a.m., has a limited number of free evenings in part because she makes a point of attending every school event possible including athletic contests, concerts and plays.
“That says a lot about her commitment to the kids of La Grande High School,” said La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.
Waldrop is following the lead of a former mentor, the late Dale Wyatt, who served as LHS principal from 1964 to 1988 and is still revered in the local education community.
“Dale Wyatt went to every event. If he could do it, I can do it,” Waldrop said.
Representing LHS at events is of course but one of the many responsibilities she has as principal. Keeping LHS’s academic curriculum strong and innovative has been a focus of Waldrop. She helped lead the effort to create a new class for freshmen, Success 101 which is helping ninth-graders avoid the pitfalls that often trip up first-year high school students and help them plan their futures. Waldrop has also overseen the addition of a new team teaching program aimed at helping students meet the state’s rising graduation standards and the installation of the Eastern Promise program. The Eastern Promise allows students to earn Eastern Oregon University credits at LHS.
The challenges teachers face are something Waldrop has retained an intuitive understanding of because she taught in the classroom for 25 years.
“She has a good feel for what teachers go through. She remembers what it was like to be a teacher,” said Patty O’Reilly, LHS’s main office secretary.
Social studies teacher John Lamoreau, in his third year as a faculty member, has a similar sentiment.
“She is one of the most caring administrators I have ever met,” Lamoreau said. “…I’m truly sad she is leaving. I always had the feeling that she is there for you.”
Susie Harris, LHS’s fiscal officer, speaks highly of Waldrop’s intuitive understanding of students and how best to help them.
“She knows what works for high school age kids,” Harris said.
Like all high school principals, Waldrop has to deal with students who are at risk, ones in danger of dropping out because of poor attitudes or troubled family situations. The principal said her work with these students has been among her most fulfilling.
“Sometimes they just need some love, someone to care about them and listen to their accomplishments,” Waldrop said.
The empathy the principal feels for less fortunate students is something those who know her comment on frequently. Waldrop thinks nothing of spending her own money to help students in need. For example, earlier this winter she noticed a student from a needy family who was often wearing short pants outdoors and arranged to get him warmer clothing. Such acts of kindness will not be quickly forgotten.
“My lasting memory of her will be her concern for students,” Lamoreau said.