For most principals, getting a report about a masked bandit lurking near the school playground would trigger a lockdown and a call to the police. For Stephanie Weinheimer, principal at Roy Elementary, it usually means another raccoon has wandered onto campus. Sometimes it’s a rogue chicken.
Roy is among the most rural and secluded schools in our district, so it’s not uncommon to see wildlife as you go about your day.
“It’s fun!” Weinheimer said. “It adds an element of surprise. And I’d rather be chasing chickens out of the playground than dealing with an HVAC system that’s melting down.”
Weinheimer feels right at home in Roy. She grew up surrounded by livestock and agriculture in the small town of Sumas, located north of Bellingham on the border with Canada.
Weinheimer comes from a family of farmers, and she and her four siblings were around farm animals from an early age. The kids were all involved in 4H and Future Farmers of America, and they took pride in raising and showing livestock at the local fair — starting with heifers and later moving on to pygmy goats.
“It teaches you responsibility,” Weinheimer said of farm life. “You’re contributing to something bigger than you because you’re helping out and you’re working together.”
When she wasn’t helping out on the farm or fishing with her dad, Weinheimer was usually inside reading books. She was, and still is, an avid reader, and she always excelled in school.
Weinheimer took honors and Advancement Placement classes in high school, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. Nobody in her family had gone on to college, and it took some words of encouragement from her high school counselor and her PE teacher, who happened to be her future mother-in law, to convince her that higher education was the right path.
In addition to their general advice about attending college, Weinheimer’s advisors also suggested she consider becoming a teacher. With that thought fresh in her mind, Weinheimer headed off to nearby Western Washington University to become an educator.
“I was always interested in helping other people. With teaching, it’s really about helping people become something they didn’t realize they could become,” she said.
After graduating, Weinheimer did a year of student teaching at Mount Baker Junior High, and then took a full time job teaching math at Lynden Christian High School.
Lynden Christian is located just minutes from Weinheimer’s hometown, so she had the unique experience of teaching friends, neighbors and even a few family members.
“I had my cousin in my class,” she said. “I had parent-teacher conferences with relatives because I had distant relatives in my class. That was the school a lot of my family went to, so it was really unique and it really felt like family.”
After four years on the job, Weinheimer and her husband moved south to Federal Way, where her husband got a job as a biologist. She landed a job teaching middle school, and it was during that period that Weinheimer began thinking about moving on to an administrative role.
She had a deep interest in developing curriculum and looking at the bigger-picture issues facing schools, and she knew becoming a principal would give her a chance to explore those interests. So, while still teaching, Weinheimer began night school to earn her administration credentials.
She stayed in Federal Way to do her administrative internship before arriving in Bethel, where she took an Assistant Principal job at Cedarcrest Middle School.
After four years at Cedarcrest, Weinheimer was offered a job leading Roy Elementary. It was a perfect fit.
“This district just fits me, especially at Roy. It felt like coming home, because it’s all about community and agriculture and things that I love,” she said.
Now in her third year as Principal, Weinheimer is hitting her stride as a leader. She sometimes misses being in the classroom, but she loves being able to help even more students as a principal.
“It was just on a bigger level,” she said of transitioning from teacher to principal. “I get to impact even more kids being an administrator. I get to bring joy to even more kids and form relationships with the kids who need it the most.”
When she’s not working, Weinheimer and her family — which now includes two young children — love to spend time outside. They hike, camp and work on their garden whenever possible. She and her husband met as teenagers while they were both showing animals at the county fair, and at some point they’d love to get back into raising livestock.
In the meantime, Weinheimer is just excited to continue working with her staff to create the best possible learning environment at her school.
“We really look at the whole child. Not only are we meeting needs academically, but meeting them socially and emotionally. With the heart that this building has, we’ve gotten some great traction in that area,” she said.