The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Jeremy Burnham

Teacher Profile Series: New RGS principal Cindy Deska

Former Lind Elementary and LRMS principal embraces move to grade school

Series: Teacher Profile | Story 5

Last updated 8/14/2019 at 12:54pm

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After serving as the principal of Lind-Ritzville Middle School and Lind Elementary School for four years, Cindy Deska is making an intra-school district move to the Ritzville Grade School. Deska said she is excited to get back to her teaching roots at the elementary school level.

After four years of serving as the principal of Lind-Ritzville Middle School and Lind Elementary School, Cindy Deska will be moving to the Ritzville Grade School. She says she is excited to return to the age group with which she has spent most of her career working.

"For the most part, my experience has all been at elementary. So I'm excited to get back to just elementary," Deska said. "I am a very strong believer that we have to address students as early as we can. And so getting back to that early childhood piece is exciting ... I think we need to put an emphasis on early childhood and those beginning learners."

Deska earned her bachelor's degree in education at Michigan State University, a master's degree in special education at Oakland University and a master's degree in administration at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

When she started school at MSU, she had narrowed her choice of majors down to two options.

"The other major I explored was journalism," Deska said. "That was the other area I was interested in at one time ... At that time, there weren't a lot of jobs in teaching. So I had to make a decision. Was I going to take a chance and try to get a job in education, or look at other avenues? I decided to take my chances."

Deska began her teaching career in Michigan teaching special education.

"I've always enjoyed working with special-needs kids, so that was kind of my focus area," Deska said. "I just have a passion for special needs kids. Kids who need behavioral support, or extra academic support. I really enjoy watching them grow."

After teaching special education in Michigan for five years, she moved to Texas and taught for two more years. It was there that she felt she could do even more good for her students in an administrative role.

"When I did training for teachers through special ed, I just really enjoyed working with the teachers," Deska said. "I felt I could reach more kids that way through training teachers. So that's kind of how I got into the administration aspect."

She then became an assistant elementary principal for seven years before becoming an elementary principal for 16 years in the same district.

After spending three more years as an elementary principal in a different district in Texas, she decided she wanted to live closer to her daughter.

"My daughter married a Ritzville man," Deska said.

And so she looked into a move.

"My three grandchildren are here," Deska said. "So family brought me here. I was very focused on where I was going to set myself up. If I was going to move, it had to be to a good situation."

Once Deska decided to move to Washington, her first focus was to learn the difference between Texas and Washington schools.

"The teacher evaluation process was very different here, and so I had to spend some time looking into that," Deska said. "The other thing was Texas doesn't use Common Core. They have their own [program] that is similar to Common Core, but that was another thing I had to spend some time getting familiar with."

While there was a learning curve with some of the procedural differences between the two states, Deska said once school started, there wasn't that much that was actually different.

"Kids are kids," Deska said. "Good instruction is good instruction."

Deska said the biggest change she faced was in the ages of students at her school. When she came to the area, she took the job as principal at the Lind Elementary School and Lind-Ritzville Middle School. While she had plenty of experience with elementary aged children, middle school was a new experience for her.

"I enjoyed [middle school] because of their age and personalities," Deska said. "They definitely have their own personalities. They are learning to be responsible. They are learning to be young adults, and yet they are still kids."

While she enjoyed it, she says it presented its own challenges.

"It was probably a shift for some of the teachers with me coming in from elementary because I was still focusing on the child and on teaching the individual kid," Deska said. "But the older kids get, and once they get in middle school and high school, the focus is more on content than on the student and the kids."

Whatever grade she supervises, Deska brings along skills that she has developed throughout her career, including her early days as a special education teacher. She says her time in special education has helped her maintain a focus on meeting the individual needs of all students.

"I think [my focus] is on differentiation for all kids," Deska said. "For higher achieving kids and for the lower achieving kids, but not forgetting the kids in the middle as well. It's about trying to work with teachers on that differentiation and making sure we are meeting the needs of all our kids."

Deska's focus on individual need-based education has had some documentable results.

The Washington State Board of Education recognized Lind Elementary for the 2018-19 school year "narrowing the gap between the highest and lowest performing student groups." Lind Elementary is one of 216 schools across the state to be recognized.

One of the strategies Deska used was improving the English as a Second Language program at the school.

"One of the things we discovered was vocabulary was an area where the kids were lacking," Deska said. "And so that was a focus. And that is something that school is going to continue to focus on."

LRS Superintendent Don Vanderholm said Deska's focus on improving the vocabulary of non-native English speaking students was crucial in the results the school achieved. He said such students make up between 25-30% of the student population in Lind.

"Those students did some targeted this year to improve vocabulary, which is actually important for all learners," Vanderholm said. "It was a goal of Cindy's and her staff. They set goals in those areas."

While Deska is excited to start at the Ritzville Grade School, she admits it can be hard to let go of her previous school after starting to see some results there.

"That was the hardest part of the decision to move over here," Deska said. "We were just starting to see progress at both the elementary and the middle school. So turning it over to someone else is tough."

Deska did want to stress that she thinks Darrel Lembke, her replacement in Lind, is a good fit and will do "a great job."

"He has a passion for the kids," Deska said. "I don't have any reservations about him taking over, it's just letting go that is hard."

Deska said she looks forward to tackling her first goal at her new school.

"Getting to know all the kids is going to be my first goal," Deska said. "In Lind, with 115 kids at the elementary school, and 150 at the middle school, it took a little time, but I knew every student by name. That is my goal here."

What's her favorite part of the first day of school?

"The bright shiny faces on the kids coming in," Deska answered. "Everyone comes in with such a hopeful attitude on the first day. Just those smiles on those kids' faces. Some are apprehensive, but they are all excited. They all want to come in to do their best. They are come in with high hopes and expectations. To me, that's our job. It's to keep that momentum going."


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