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Just one fire ant in a flood

Meet Your Principal: Craig Veldman

Editor’s note: Craig Veldman is the new principal for Cherry Creek Elementary School. School News Network gets to know him better in this edition of Meet Your Administrators. 

Work background in teaching/education: “This will be my 20th year working in education and my 18th year as a resident of Lowell. I taught middle school math for 15 years at Kenowa Hills. For the past four years I was the assistant principal at Lowell Middle School.”

Education: Veldman holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, focused on math and social studies, and K-8 certification from Hope College. He earned a master’s degree in educational technology and in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University. 

What jobs have you held outside education? “I worked for the Holland Township Parks Department all through college. I’ve also done a lot of coaching basketball – some of my son’s teams and at the middle school level. I also have family that owns the local golf course, Arrowhead Golf Course, so I have helped run some youth leagues there and worked at the course for a few summers.” 

New Cherry Creek Principal Craig Veldman and his family

Family: Wife, Tara, a registered nurse. Two children: son, Drew, a sophomore at Lowell High School; and daughter, Elyse, a seventh-grader at Lowell Middle School. 

Hobbies, interests, little-known talents: “I’ve always enjoyed being outside and being involved with some kind of sport. I guess my hidden talent is also one of my hobbies: I love to fly fish, especially steelhead and trout fish. I love to get in the river – that’s something that, when I just need a break or need to get away, I love to get out on the river. There’s something about being in nature and moving water that is just good for the soul. My wife and I this summer also took up trail running; we’ve been running the North Country Trail in Lowell and have really enjoyed that as a time to not only exercise but also communicate with each other.”

What kind of kid were you in elementary school? “I was very shy; I didn’t want attention brought on me. I was a pleaser; I always wanted to make my teachers happy. And I just loved recess; like, I lived for recess. Whether I got to play football out on the field with my friends or basketball on the courts, I just loved to get out there. My favorite subject was math; it was something I excelled in at that level.” 

The biggest lesson you’ve learned from students: “Sometimes I feel like they’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them. But probably the biggest lesson is how important it is to try to walk in somebody else’s shoes. You can never understand why somebody responds the way that they do unless you really try to get into their shoes. Everybody has something going on and we don’t always know what that is. Part of my goal in education, beyond teaching and helping them learn, is to support our students beyond those basics and figure out what is not allowing them to reach their full potential. I’ve always been drawn to those students that maybe have had trauma in their life or struggled with something big. I’m drawn to them because I want to help figure out how I can support them.” 

If you could go back in time, which grade would you choose to return to, and why? “I’d choose my favorite year: sixth grade. When I was in school it was a K-6 building, so it kind of felt like you were the king of the school when you got to sixth grade. I also loved my teacher, and remember just loving to go to school.”

Craig Veldman pictured with some students at Cherry Creek Elementary

What is the No. 1 potential positive change for schools that you hope comes out of this pandemic? “Going into the year, this topic was something we talked about as a staff – the fact that this year is going to be fertile soil for change because it has to be. One thing we’ve already noticed is that the way our students enter our building now has totally changed the dynamics of how we start our day. 

“(In previous years), students would be out on the playground before school, running around like ants on a sugar cube, and when they would come inside there would already be fires to put out. Now they enter the building directly from dropoff and they go directly to class. Our staff has already mentioned the conversations that this method allows them to have with students as they trickle into the classrooms, versus that kind of all-at-once flood of students. It’s just given our school a sense of calm to start the day, with students calmly coming in and going right to class. It’s made all the difference in the world with how our day begins.”

“Something else that resonates with me is just how amazing our staff, our students and our families have handled the changes that we’ve had to go through. Our theme for our staff this year is ‘Better Together.’ And it makes me think of fire ants: when there’s a flood, fire ants bond together and form a float in the river. They’re floating down the river and don’t always know where they’re going, but they know they’re going together. And part of this group of ants starts under water, but they cycle through that float so that sometimes they’re on the top and sometimes they’re under the water. But these ants stick together and float down the river as a group and eventually find a spot where they can safely land. I know many of us (educators) probably felt like we were under water to start the year. But I think our staff and our parents and students have really bonded through this experience. We’re moving down the river together. That’s the only way we’ll make it.”

If a theme song played every time you walked into your school building, which song would you choose? “‘Options’ by the artist NF. The line that I think about from this song is, “I’ve gotta make it, or make it, these are the options.” In other words, there are no options other than getting it done! That’s kind of my mantra. Each day we have to do whatever we have to do to make this year a success, and so we’re going to do that. I heard those lyrics and I thought, that’s my theme for the year.

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Cedar Springs, Godfrey-Lee, Grandville and Lowell. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio or email Beth.

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