'Long line of educators' continues for Wilson familyStephanie Wilson probably couldn’t help becoming a school administrator. It’s in her blood. Only 32, Wilson is the principal of Christ the King Elementary School, in Sioux Falls — her first administrative post.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Stephanie Wilson probably couldn’t help becoming a school administrator.
It’s in her blood.
Only 32, Wilson is the principal of Christ the King Elementary School, in Sioux Falls — her first administrative post. She’s a third-generation principal, coming from what her mother, Mary Wilson, calls “a long line of educators.”
“You’ll find that most good teachers always wanted to be teachers,” she said. “When I was a little girl, I was teaching the neighborhood children. We always looked forward to school, and so did my girls.”
Mary Wilson retired as principal of Mitchell’s Longfellow Elementary School in June after 23 years with the Mitchell School District. Wilson remained on the job until the groundwork had been laid for a new Longfellow — now under construction — and then retired.
Prior to her Longfellow stint, Wilson was a teacher-principal at Holy Spirit parochial school in Mitchell, and she also taught in the Stickney and McCook Central school districts. Her husband Dick, prior to a career in insurance and financial planning, taught government and economics and coached in Stickney. He also had brothers who worked as school superintendents in Canistota and LeMars, Iowa. Dick Wilson died in 2000.
Mary Wilson, in turn, drew her inspiration from her mother, Lola Weber, who was principal of the elementary school in Salem from 1973 to 1984.
“We have lots of educators in our family,” she said.
The youngest of Dick and Mary Wilson’s five girls, Stephanie taught for 10 years prior to becoming a principal, though she earned her administrator’s degree in 2001. Daughters Kim Swanson and Cindy Riddle have backgrounds in elementary education and speech pathology, respectively.
“I enjoyed being in the classroom and I also taught special education for about eight years. I wanted to have more experience as a teacher before I became an administrator — I thought that would be more helpful to the teachers,” she said.
Mary Wilson said all her children learned to value the educational process.
“Dick and I wanted all our children to understand the importance of education and we wanted them to understand that education is not just about preparing for a career, but becoming a better person. You want your kids to be good people,” she said.
At home, rules weren’t written down, but everyone knew what was expected, recalled Stephanie, who attended Holy Family Catholic School while growing up in Mitchell. She and her sisters volunteered at her mother’s schools when they could.
She took her undergraduate studies at Mount Marty College and her graduate work at the University of South Dakota. She was working for the Sioux Falls School District when she learned of the open principal slot at Christ the King.
“I ran it by my mother and she thought it was a good idea. She’s always been a good encourager. She’s very organized, though she’ll tell you that I’m more organized than she is,” said Stephanie.
As her school’s chief administrator, Stephanie Wilson supervises eight teachers, 13 staff members and 125 students, pre-K through the sixth grade.
Her mother’s solid consistency was a major source of inspiration.
“Mom knows who she is and what she believes, and that hasn’t changed over the years. She always did what she thought was best for her students and they appreciated that,” Stephanie said.
After more than a quarter century of observing and evaluating teachers, Mary Wilson believes the best teachers have an innate talent for inspiring students.
“You know who’s going to do well as a teacher,” she said. She believes her daughter has that gift and already possesses a depth of professional preparation that took her years to achieve.
“Teaching is a calling and the very best teachers know how to make students want to learn,” she said.
The very best teachers offer unconditional love and high expectations, because low expectations are usually repaid in kind, she said.
“They have to know you love them and you expect them to do their very best,” she said.
Mary Wilson believes the very best teachers also have their priorities straight. To her, that means placing God first, family second and career third.
“Her faith is very strong, and I think it has an effect on all aspects of her life” said Stephanie, who says she enjoys her school’s strong family atmosphere.
So far, everything is going well.
“I think my training, and my mom’s experience that I witnessed as a kid, helped,” she said.
Mary Wilson has every confidence her youngest will do well. And with visits to grandkids, she’s too busy to be looking over her daughter’s shoulder.
“I’m so busy being retired that I don’t have time to sit around,” she said.