When you were a student, did you ever imagine you might one day return to your school as a teacher?
Sara Olson certainly didn’t.
Yet roughly a decade after leaving Frontier Middle School as a student, Olson found herself working at the school as a teacher.
It’s been quite a journey for Olson, who grew up in the district, graduated from Bethel High School and is now the principal at Clover Creek Elementary.
The oldest of three siblings, Olson was a good student and an athlete in school. She played fast-pitch softball and basketball at Evergreen Elementary and Frontier Middle, and was a teacher’s assistant in the P.E. department at Bethel High.
Her time playing sports and her love for fitness led her to consider a career as a physical therapist. So she headed off to college at Central Washington University to do just that.
It was during her time at Central that Olson found her passion for kids. To help make ends meet, she was working as a softball umpire and a counselor at a local camp.
“That’s where I discovered my love for teaching and working with kids,” she said.
She was inspired by the kids’ energy and she loved the idea of being able to help shape them into caring, educated adults. The more she worked with the children, the more her focus shifted away from physical therapy and towards the idea of becoming a teacher.
She was still interested in kinesiology and in general heath, so she thought being a gym teacher might be the perfect job.
After graduating she headed home to student teach at Frontier Middle. As a former student, it was a bit disorienting at first to be on the other side of the classroom, but it also solidified Olson’s passion for education.
Her first full-time job was teaching gym at a high school in Renton. Fresh out of college, Olson was only a few years older than some of her students. She said it was an intense experience, but she quickly grew to love it.
She was having fun teaching PE, and began working as a school ASB advisor and leadership teacher. It was in those classrooms that Olson developed many of the leadership skills she uses today at Clover Creek.
“I’m a firm believer that you don’t get to just have the title of leader,” she said. “You actually have to earn that through influence. And you only earn that influence if you serve and sacrifice.”
After seven years in Renton, Olson decided she was ready for a change. By that time she had already returned to college to earn her administration credentials, and she wanted nothing more than to come home to Bethel to help lead a school.
“I really firmly believe that we need to give back to the community in which we were raised,” Olson said of her return to Bethel. “If we want to make an effort to change the lives around us, we need to give back.”
Her first job back in the district was as an Associate Administrator, splitting her time between Shining Mountain and Graham elementary. Moving from a high school to elementary school was a challenge, but it helped her grow professionally.
When Olson was given the chance to become principal at Clover Creek, she jumped at the opportunity to lead her own school. Like most teachers who move on to administrative work, the transition out of a classroom was tough for Olson. Teachers get to see the impact they’re having on individual students on a daily basis, which isn’t always possible as a principal.
Still, Olson finds ways to make individual connections with her students at Clover Creek.
“Maybe there’s that one kid who needs you to check in on him every day. Maybe there’s that handful of kids that just need a hug every day,” she said. “It’s for them, but it’s also for me.”
One student who definitely gets a hug every day is Olson’s daughter, who is currently a first grader at Clover Creek. Sharing a school has been a positive experience for both mother and daughter, but it took a little getting used to from the younger Olson, who didn’t quite understand the difference between mom time and principal time.
“We had to establish some boundaries,” Olson said. “If everyone else is expected to be quiet in the hallway and expected to stay in line, then you have to do that too.”
It’s truly Team Bethel at the Olson house. Her husband Jesse, who also grew up in the district and graduated from Bethel High, is now a teacher at Graham-Kapowsin High School.
When they’re not in school, the Olsons love spending time outdoors. They camp, hike, and ride bikes whenever they have free time. But even when she’s on vacation, Olson is still thinking of ways to make her school the best it can be.
“I feel like Clover Creek is a little hidden gem in our district,” she said. “It’s amazing that we have 85 staff members and 809 kids at our school and we still feel like a family. Any one of us is willing to do anything to best meet the needs of our kids. And that’s special. You don’t find that in every school.”