In a single day, Laurel School Principal Linda Creighton transitions from making the eight-minute drive between her school's two campuses to visiting classrooms, to filling out paperwork and answering emails. Her days are the opposite of stagnant.
Creighton, recently honored with the Association of California School Administrators' regional Elementary Principal of the Year award, said the most rewarding part of her job is her daily classroom visits with teachers and students. She loves the "smiles, hugs and kind words" from students, she said.
The top administrator at the K-2 Laurel School in Atherton since 2009, Creighton saw her duties expanded in 2016 when she was appointed to head the newly opened Laurel School Upper Campus (3-5) in Menlo Park. There are a total of 716 students between the two campuses, said Parke Treadway, public information officer for the Menlo Park City School District, in an email. Laurel is one of five schools in the school district.
Creighton, 44, said she makes the best of operating the same school on two campuses. There are family picnics, math nights and parades between the two campuses to keep the school unified, she said. Both campuses are in their third year of implementing the school's vision of project-based learning in their curriculums, a decision that came after discussions among parents, teachers, students, community members and others. So too came the motto that Laurel should be "the best place to spend your childhood."
Creighton's classroom visits also help her get to know students and teachers, and give her insight into what's happening in classrooms. She wants to learn from both the teacher and student what obstacles a struggling student might be facing, and can accomplish this by sitting in on classroom lessons, she said.
She gives students celebratory ribbons during their birthday month, which is another way she can further connect with them, she said.
Nurturing independent thinkers
Over the next few years, Creighton foresees Laurel continuing to improve and refine the way its project-based learning program, a relatively new educational model, is put into practice. That program's main components, according to the school's website, consist of inquiry-based learning -- using questions, problems and scenarios to help students learn through investigation; a meaningful integration of reading, writing, technology and math; giving students voice and choice in all projects; an emphasis on collaboration and communication; and students creating projects for an authentic audience.
"It takes focused work to develop authentic inquiry-based units of study, integrating multiple subject areas, and to challenge students to solve real world problems in original ways," she said, adding that the school's teachers "are working hard each and every day."
As a principal, Creighton is motivated by a desire to make a positive difference in her community and in the community's collective future.
"It's crucial that we develop and nurture independent thinkers who are also kind people, and people who learn to look for and understand others' perspectives," she said. "When students leave Laurel, I tell them that they will always be representing Laurel School and what we stand for at Laurel. More than anything, I want students to use their life skills, like compassion, respect, and perseverance, while leading positive change in the world."
The school includes a Spanish immersion program, which Creighton said supports the school's vision of creating confident, globally minded students.
"There are mounds of research that support learning a second language as young as possible," she said. Laurel students are fluent in Spanish and English when they complete fifth-grade, she said.
Outside of work, you can find Creighton, a Redwood City resident, at yoga, when she has the time, or spending time with her husband, Nick; two children, Cassidy, 13, and Finn, 11; and two dogs, Buster and Bean. She said that she loves neighborhood walks on sunny days. And, she added, a special part of her day is making her daughter pancakes for breakfast before school — a daily ritual.
Creighton, originally from Goleta, California, earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential from California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo, and a master's degree in education administration from Humboldt State University.
She said she didn't have strong career counseling when she was a student, but chose to be a teacher after years of working with children as a babysitter.
"I liked the idea of impacting developing minds," she said. "It wasn't like, 'this is my calling,'" but I've found I'm very fulfilled working in education."
Creighton taught English language learners in Cupertino before coming to Laurel as a first- and second-grade teacher in 2002. She went on to become the school's vice principal in 2006.
The move from teacher to administrator allowed Creightonto have an impact on more students than the small number she interacted with in a classroom, she said.
Creighton won the award for Region 5, which encompasses San Mateo and San Francisco counties, according to a school district newsletter. She was chosen for the ACSA honor from among principals of 300 schools in the region.
The district offered high praise when the award was announced late last month, stating in its newsletter: "From overseeing the building and opening of Laurel's Upper Campus, to bringing Project Based Learning to both campuses as a unifying practice, to the expansion of the Spanish Immersion Program, Linda's thoughtful and steady leadership has allowed MPCSD (Menlo Park City School District) to grow and serve its families better than ever. Linda works tirelessly to ensure that Laurel School is indeed one of 'the best place[s to spend your childhood.'"
"It's nice to get recognized for all the hard work, and that my colleagues are noticing I'm putting a lot of time and energy into creating positive results." The school district's Assistant Superintendent Jammie Behrendt nominated Creighton for the honor, the principal said, adding that the nomination was "flattering" and "unexpected."
Under Creighton's leadership, Laurel School won the 2014 California Distinguished School Award, a 2014 Kent Award, and a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School award.
The Association of California School Administrators, which is made up of public school leaders, will recognize Creighton and other award winners at a dinner on April 30.