By Sue Moore
Students at Sunset Lake Elementary school in Vicksburg sat quiet as church mice in the cafeteria on Monday, December 9. They were waiting to surprise their school principal, Amie McCaw, because she had received a great honor. They just weren’t sure what it was, but they knew it was to be a surprise, so they were waiting in great anticipation without a peep.
McCaw was summoned to the room full of 550 young ones through a ruse from her staff. They had nominated her for the honor of Practicing Principal of the Year for Michigan. Many letters of support and admiration were sent along with McCaw’s bio to the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association to prove her worthiness.
She competed with other nominees from around the state but didn’t know she had won until her name was called out at a convention in Traverse City on Dec. 6. “It’s not like being Miss Michigan. It is, however, as close as one can get to it in the profession of guiding school children and teachers through the day-to-day rigors of learning,” according to Angie Getsinger, physical education teacher at Sunset.
Learning and leadership is exactly what Principal McCaw specializes in according to the many nominating letters. In her five years as principal at Sunset, she has instituted the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey and “Leader in Me” programs. McCaw wrote grants from several sources, including the Vicksburg Foundation and Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, to fund the programs.
Laura Chang, Sunset School Interventionist and 2019 Michigan Teacher of the Year, wrote in the nomination document, “Amie has the passion and gifts of an outstanding ‘big idea’ person and the energy and commitment to follow through with the detail work that makes for an extraordinary principal.”
Keevin O’Neill, Vicksburg Schools superintendent wrote, “Amie is a change agent, exemplified by Sunset Lake becoming a Leader in Me school, operating under a whole building and community approach to generate student independence and student voice.”
From Ruth Hook, principal of Indian Lake Elementary school: “Amie has never veered away from an initiative or action which she knew would ultimately benefit students. Her ability to take positive steps leading others toward a common goal with focus and purpose provide a strong foundation of trust among all staff from the start.”
Most of all, Sunset students spoke in a video in McCaw’s honor that was played for the many that were honoring her. Hunter Kohler said in the video, “Mrs. McCaw is the best principal because she is always nice to the students and teachers.”
Avery Currier said Mrs. McCaw is “smart, kind and knows what we kids are doing because she was a teacher before she became principal.”
Corbin Dugan, Carson Summerfield, Kameron Kessler, Easton Moughton said, respectively, “She’s always pushing you to try and do the right thing.” “She reminds us never to talk in the hall.” “She never lets anything get out of hand.” “She’s nice.”
Chang said McCaw recognizes the value of teacher teams meeting in collaborative groups and allows teachers to schedule time within the school day to meet to discuss students, data and programs. The result is motivated and inspired teachers, professional learning communities and increased student achievement.
“She continually focuses on leadership skills, such as being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, and thinking win-win,” Chang added. “One way Amie encourages this is by having teachers award children with a leadership award. Two students are nominated by each teacher every month to enjoy a special ‘Lunch with the Principal’, complete with table coverings, centerpieces and dessert. Amie recognizes the importance of student leadership by recruiting students to plan and lead monthly assemblies, volunteer for building leadership teams and serve on our building Student Lighthouse Team for problem solving.”
Third-grade teacher Jennie Taylor said, “Amie has a kind heart. She is patient and sees the positive side of everything. She listens to us so we feel we have been heard with reassuring words.”
McCaw began her teaching career in Vicksburg schools in 1999 after obtaining a teaching degree from Goshen College, Gosher, Ind., although she had a bachelor’s degree in restaurant and hotel management from Purdue University. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University, where she is pursuing a PhD. In 2007 she accepted a principal position at Gull Lake schools, then moved to Schoolcraft schools in a dual role as principal in both lower and upper elementary buildings from 2011 to 2014. She and her husband, Mike, live on Barton Lake. Their three children graduated from Vicksburg schools. Their son has earned his college degree from Michigan State University and their daughters from the University of Michigan.
“I am truly honored and still in disbelief to have received the MEMSPA Outstanding Practicing Principal award. I have been blessed to work with so many dedicated educators along my journey so I want to also honor all the colleagues I have learned from and have been blessed to work alongside during my wonderful thirteen-year career as an elementary principal.
“I love my job and serving the staff, students, and families of Sunset Lake Elementary. I look forward to this year and the opportunities that this award may bring. I want to thank Vicksburg Community Schools for always supporting the professional development and professional learning that I have been able to receive through the MEMSPA organization and for allowing me to serve in a leadership capacity.”