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Her two No. 1 priorities: ‘keep them safe and keep them learning’

Meet your administrator: Shantel VanderGalien

Forest Hills Shantel VanderGalien is the new Forest Hills Eastern Middle School assistant principal. SNN gets to know her in this edition of Meet Your Administrators.

Other positions you have held in education:

  • 17 years for Wyoming Public Schools: English teacher at Wyoming Park, Rogers High School, Innovations, Wyoming Junior High; English teacher and instructional coach at Wyoming Junior High.

How about jobs outside education?

“I’ve been the varsity volleyball coach for Wyoming Park and the 7th/8th grade cross country coach for Wyoming JH. While in college, I worked at Thresholds and Bath & Body Works. Additionally, I have roofed houses, built an addition on my own house with my husband, and through Kent District Library tutored adults preparing to take their citizenship test, and Sudanese refugees.” 

Education/degrees: 

  • Bachelor’s degree in education, English major/psychology minor from Calvin College (now Calvin University)
  • Master’s degree in educational leadership from Michigan State University
Shantel VanderGalien and her daughter, Darby

Spouse/children: She and her husband of 20 years next March, Aaron VanderGalien, have a daughter, Darby, 11, a sixth-grader at East Rockford Middle School.

Hobbies/Interests/Little-known talent:

“In previous years, when I had more time, I bow hunted. I love running, hiking, being active outside, snowboarding, scuba diving (we got scuba certified as a family last year), and snowmobiling. Worldwide travel. We have a trip booked to Italy and Croatia this summer. I love to cook and have friends over for dinner.”

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school?

“I was a good student, always the one with my hand up to give the right answer! I always asked questions. I played volleyball, basketball and softball. I wasn’t in the ‘popular’ crowd, but I had good friends from sports. I always worried that people didn’t like me, and felt like I was a bit shy.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from students is… “Be unapologetically you! My principal gave me a gift recently; it’s a cute sign that says ‘Be You. The world will adjust.’ I am inspired by my students who are doing just that and not giving in to peer pressure to wear the same thing as everyone else or to say/do something just because someone else tells you to.”

If I could go back to school I would go to “12th grade, because I loved my English teacher and the classes I was taking were challenging and interesting. Also, I felt like I was a mini adult!”

Shantel VanderGalien, previously an English teacher at Wyoming Middle School, was named 2020-2021 Regional Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Department of Education

If you walked into your new school building to theme music, what would it be? “One of my favorite artists is Post Malone. I was able to see him in concert before the pandemic hit. But for theme music to walk into the building, it would have to be Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation‘ because it is upbeat and captures my worldview and how I see our students: full of courage and possibility.”

On trading her classroom for an office: “It’s so interesting that you ask me that. I just went to see ‘Young Frankenstein’ last night at Wyoming Jr. High … and I got to see so many former students and their families. There were hugs and tears, and I for sure miss the classroom connection with students that I used to have. 

“What I love about my new role is that I have the time to meet with students who need an adult to help them navigate difficult situations/decisions and sometimes the consequences of those decisions. I try to make sure I am making positive connections with students on a daily basis so they know that my two priorities are to keep them safe and to keep them learning. Additionally, I love that I am in a role to be an instructional leader and that I get to help craft professional development for teachers. It was a passion of mine when I was in Wyoming and I’m so glad I get to keep doing what I love. It is something that has always been deep-rooted in me: that passion for continual learning and sharing learning experiences with others.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, 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

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