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District Welcomes New Principals

New Year, new faces in the top office at five buildings: John Philo at the high school, Ken See at the middle school, Ana Aleman-Putman at East Elementary, Jennifer Harper at West Elementary and Angela Thornburgh at Central Elementary. Below, we introduce you to a few of them.

This Former Deejay Says Middle School Teachers Helped Him Excel

Meet your Principal: Ken See

School: Grandville Middle

Previous job:
Elementary principal, Cedar Springs Public Schools

Degrees: Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Olivet College, master’s in educational leadership from Western Michigan University

Other positions you have held in education: I taught sixth- and seventh-grade science, social studies, language arts in Greenville and Rockford. I also coached several sports including football, basketball and track. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work at all three levels of education. In Cedar Springs I spent a few years as assistant principal and athletic director in the middle school, then was the middle school principal for several years. I also had different opportunities to work as the high school associate principal and principal of one of the elementary buildings.

How about jobs outside education? One of the more unique positions I had was a deejay for the local radio station in my hometown, Olivet.

Besides getting to know the staff and families, what are you most looking forward to as principal here? I am most excited about supporting the middle school staff as we work collaboratively to get all students what they need to be successful, lifelong learners.

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? Middle school was a special time for me. I struggled with engaging in school in the elementary grades. It wasn’t until I reached middle school that the light came on for me and I began to enjoy school and give my best each day. This had a lot to do with me getting to take part in sports and band, but more importantly my success was due to some very caring middle school teachers and coaches who really supported me and showed me that I could do anything if I put my heart into it.

Spouse/children: I am married to Nicole and have three children: son Tristan, 7; and daughters Skylar, 10; and Ella, 12, who is beginning her first year in middle school.

Hobbies/Interests: I enjoy reading, playing basketball, golf, running and bow hunting. My wife and I have always enjoyed live music and try to attend concerts when possible.

What inspires you, both in your educational role and in your own life? Because I feel so strongly about that handful of teachers who impacted my life as a student, I have always had a passion to be an educator and to do the same for students now.

What makes you laugh? I work at the middle school level. Having a sense of humor is a necessity.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? Knowing what I do now, most people are surprised when I tell them that I did not do well in school as a child. I love to share this about myself because it is a great example of how anyone can improve and grow regardless of their situation. It also points out just how critical our job is every day as educators. You never know when something you say or do is going to be that moment that makes a difference in a child’s life.

Tell us about a non-professional book you recommend and why: “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. He is a Harvard researcher who has evidence to show the power that happiness has on our physical and emotional well-being. It’s good stuff.

New School Chief’s Other Big Job: Mom

Angela Thornburgh

Meet your Principal: Angela Thornburgh

School: Central Elementary

Previous job? I have been in Grandville for a number of years serving as building-level administration and most recently as Director of Student Services.

Degrees: Bachelor’s in biology with a teaching certificate, and a master’s in educational leadership plus additional coursework.

Other positions you have held in education: I taught high school science at Battle Creek Pennfield for about 12 years.

How about jobs outside education? My biggest and most important job outside the classroom has been to be a mom. I have two grown children I am extremely proud of, ages 22 and 19. I have loved every part of being their mom and look forward to what adventures lie ahead for them and for me as we enter a new stage in our relationship and in my support for them.

Besides getting to know the staff and families, what are you most looking forward to as principal here? I am just excited to be part of a great learning experience at Central and watching the development and growth that each day brings. Central is a great place and I am blessed to be part of the Central community.

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? When I was in elementary school, I loved to read. I was always a very serious student. My biggest struggles were in math and having self-confidence. Outside of school, I spent a lot of time riding my bike with neighborhood friends, playing in our tree fort, riding my horse and rollerskating.

Spouse/children: I have been married for almost 25 years. My husband owns a cement construction company. My daughter lives and works in Washington D.C., and my son is a sophomore in college.

Hobbies/Interests: I still like to read. I love to travel. I enjoy doing small craft projects. I love antiques and watch HGTV for fun.

What inspires you, both in your educational role and in your own life? Seeing, watching, witnessing, being part of a time when a child can feel like they have accomplished something (big or small), and you get to see that joy or sense of pride in what they have done/ learned. It just fuels me and keeps me moving forward waiting for that next experience.

What makes you laugh? My two dogs — I call them my boys. They are rambunctious, a little naughty and very happy guys.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I love animals and supported my children in 4-H since they were 9 years old. We’ve owned and shown goats, dairy calves, hogs and show cattle. In addition, I am proud to say that I was in my very first autocross race over the summer. It was so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again.

Tell us about a non-professional book you recommend and why: Mystery types of books take my imagination to a place that is very different from my life and my experiences. I am intrigued by the science behind police investigations and such.

Meet your Principal: Jennifer Harper

Jennifer Harper
Jennifer Harper

School: West Elementary

Previous job? Elementary Principal in Cedar Springs

Degrees: MA degree-Educational Leadership, BS degrees Elementary Education and Special Education.

Other positions you have held in education (title, school, district, state):

  • Parents as Teachers parent educator and Intervention Specialist in St Louis,Missouri.
  • Kindergarten, second grade teacher, Migrant education director, Kent City School District, Michigan
  • Early Childhood director, Asst. Principal and Elementary Principal in Cedar Springs School District

How about jobs outside education? I worked at Mr. Fables and Mr. Steak restaurants.

Besides getting to know the staff and families, what are you most looking forward to as principal here? I’m excited to support Professional Learning Communities and data conversations. I am also excited to celebrate the students, staff and families of West.

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school (your personality, interests, hobbies, activities)? I was a busy kiddo! I loved school: played basketball, softball, cheerleader, track, choir, and musicals.

Spouse/children: My husband Steve is a Delta pilot. (He was an FA-18 pilot, that’s why I had so many different jobs). We have 5 boys and one grand baby! Our last two boys were adopted!

Hobbies/Interests: I love running, reading, water/snow skiing, playing basketball, boating.

What inspires you, both in your educational role and in your own life? What inspires me are people who bring Joy to others! People have no idea what a difference a kind word, a smile, a helping hand can do.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I’m a singer. I lead praise band at our church.

Tell us about a non-professional book you recommend and why: I have read several of the Brene Brown books. “Daring Greatly” is a great book!

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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