Thirty-year educator Kathryn Vandenkieboom has retired from Los Alamos Public Schools. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Kathryn Vandenkieboom is excited about her retirement after a 30-year career in education. She finished out her time at Los Alamos Public Schools on the leadership team as Systems, Curriculum Mapping and Data Analysis Coordinator.
“I have had a great career and a great family and I just couldn’t be any more pleased with the outcome. You know it’s pretty awesome, and who know what comes next,” she told the Los Alamos Reporter in a recent interview.
Vandenkieboom was born in Kentucky but when she was about 11 years old, her father wanted to come out west and the family moved to Belen. After graduating from Belen High School, she attended the University of New Mexico.
“I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted to do. I tried a lot of different majors. I think the first two years I changed my major every semester and I kind of finally realized I liked learning and I liked kids and so I ended up trying elementary education and that’s how I became a teacher,” she said.
Her first teaching job was at Adobe Acres Elementary School in the South Valley in Albuquerque in the 1988-89 school year.
“ I taught first grade for two years, then third grade for two years and then fifth grade for two years at that school so I had the same kids over and over and I still hear from a couple of them. Two of them married each other. It was a sweet way to start,” Vandenkieboom said. “Then I thought, ‘I can’t even survive on this teacher income’. I remember my first year of teaching it was $17,200 and I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something else’.”
At the time she happened to have a principal who really encouraged her to get into the UNM administrator program. She got into the program and the school district paid her teacher’s salary while half of her time was spent in the classroom as a regular teacher and the other half she was able to work in the office and do a kind of internship as an administrator.
“I wasn’t really ready to make the leap to administration but I was ready to jump schools and I taught at Georgia O’Keefe Elementary for five years. Then I was ready to make the changeover to administration and I got an assistant principal job at Emerson Elementary School for the 1998-1999 school year which is right near the state fairgrounds. It was a totally different world from either of the schools where I had been but it taught me a huge amount,” Vandenkieboom said.
At Christmas that year, her sister invited her to a party and introduced her to John Vandenkieboom, who was working as an engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and within a year they were married. The following year, their son, Jack, was born and a year after, their daughter Sophie was born.
During the 1999-2000 school year I taught at Barranca Mesa Elementary School for her first teaching position in Los Alamos.
“That was the year of the Cerro Grande fire and I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I had seen snow before but I remember sitting in my classroom at Barranca watching a snowstorm that was just crazy with sideways snow. And my first day there, I walked in and I expected to just be able to go to the cafeteria and buy lunch and there was no hot lunch program. It was a totally different world but I really enjoyed it,” she said.
Vandenkieboom then took four years off when Jack and Sophie were really little but went back to teaching at Mountain Elementary School. When Mountain and Aspen Elementary School were re-districted, she moved to Aspen where she taught sixth grade for a year. When Mary McLeod and Kate Thomas were LAPS Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, Vandenkieboom was asked to apply for the principal’s job at Aspen. She said she only wanted to take the job for a year ‘because being a principal is hard work”.
“Ten years later looking back I feel the first 3-5 years was all about the social-emotional aspects of being at Aspen and trying to get those healthy, and then I started to learn about how do to improve our test scores because our kids were just as smart as everyone else, they just weren’t performing. That was the first part of my learning how to do the curriculum director job I’m retiring from,” she said.
It was during that time that the Baldridge idea of Plan, Do, Study, Act began to be applied to education – setting a goal and measuring progress towards that goal.
“When I went through school I took some classes about reading but they were not about the science of reading. If wish I had been taught explicit ways to teach my children about how the English language sounds and symbols worked as well as what the relationships were with all the rules that make sense if you teach them in a methodical manner,” Vandenkieboom said. “But when I went through college it was all about whole language – my whole career has been this cycle. We’ve gotten at learning how to teach. We’ve gotten smarter about the science of teaching. So looking at science of education, you look at your scores and you start delving into the types of questions that your kids did well on and the type that they didn’t do well on. That tells the teacher what you need to still teach.”
During her 10 years as principal, she also got into the science of social and emotional learning for kids. She and now Los Alamos Middle School Principal Suzanne Lynne managed to get a grant to attend a Hawn Foundation conference where they heard from Goldie Hawn about ways to transform children’s lives by providing vital social and emotional programs to reduce stress and aggressive behavior, improve focus and academic performance and increase resiliency for success in school and in life. The two educators thought the program looked great and brought it back to Los Alamos.
“We got some pushback because it sounded religious. It sounded like we were going to meditate and things like that. And that’s not what it was. It was just getting your head ready to learn. It took two or three years explaining that and now we have the Healthy Schools Initiative,” she said.
Vandenkieboom the learning curve when she moved up to the curriculum director position at the District Office was huge but very exciting.
“I feel like I have started some things that will go on and are super important such as curriculum mapping. How do you teach without a curriculum map? You need to know what the scope of your job is over the course of a year and what materials you should use, and if you have a certain text book – great – pull out the key parts and use those in a smart way. To have a timeline that you should be doing that on I think will help teachers get back the time they need and deserve to start getting their message across,” she said.
She said for example the curriculum map for third grade would show what would be taught and learned and the map for fourth grade would show what would be taught and learned there and there would be no guessing at what the third grade teacher had taught the previous year because he or she would stick to the curriculum map. This means teachers don’t have to go back over the previous year’s material and can get so much more taught, she said.
“I am proud of starting that and I’m so glad that Sharon Fogle, who is taking over my position, will be continuing that. She and I have worked pretty closely over the past few years and particularly over the last two months since she got the job. We’ve been meeting regularly and trying to transition so that staff doesn’t feel like there’s this void and they don’t know what to do,” Vandenkieboom said.
Asked what made her decide to retire, Vandenkieboom noted that she has been in education for around 30 years.
“People have asked me that. I guess I’m at the point where I’d love to really be able to enjoy being retired. I don’t need to figure out I’m ill or anything. I’d just like to retire now and be able to go on a walk whenever I want to and garden. My parents love in Albuquerque and I don’t get to see them like I should,” she said. “It’s not really a hobby but seeing people in a social way will be a nice treat.”