Each week, Longview Public Schools will honor one of their three retiring principals. This week's retiring principal is Lori Larson of Robert Gray!
Robert Gray Elementary Principal Lori Larson, who is retiring at the end of this school year, knew at a young age that she was meant to work in education. It was part of her soul, a calling some would say. “It was all very fascinating to me.” And so, her journey began.
Lori grew up in Rainier, Oregon across the river from Longview. Her father was a longshoreman and her mother loved working at the local bank. She was one of four children. She grew up in a unique time in history when the federal Title IX was new which allowed Lori and her friends to chase down athletic and academic scholarships that paid for their educations. After graduating from Rainier High School, she played basketball at Lower Columbia College, then transferred to Central Washington University where she focused on earning her Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education. Later in her career she went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Reading from the University of Portland and another Master of Education from City University.
In the past 39 years, Lori has worn a number of hats for the Longview School district, from teacher, to instructional coach, and finally school administrator. Lori’s first permanent teaching position began at Robert Gray Elementary in 1984. Over the next twenty years, she would teach kindergarten through 5th grade at Robert Gray, CVG and Mint Valley. Applying her specialized education in reading, Lori became a Literacy Specialist at CVG from 2006 – 2013, and in 2014, she took a position as an Instructional Coach for the District. In 2015, Lori was offered the Assistant Principal position at Mt. Solo Middle School, which she held for three years before her career came full circle when she returned to Robert Gray Elementary as the Principal. When asked what her favorite job was at the district, Lori noted that she really enjoyed teaching kindergarten, 4th and 5th grade. She also enjoyed planning summer school programs. She worked part time during the years children Rachel and Scott were young.
When asked how teaching today is different from when she first began, Lori noted that years ago, teachers would leave in the summer and come back to school in the fall to pick up where they left off. The curriculum did not change and they were able to use the same materials. The reading and math programs remained the same allowing teachers to become very proficient and comfortable. Today, changes come fast and furious. Educators are constantly tweaking and improving instruction and strategies. Laws and rules constantly change. Assessments change and benchmarks change. Change is constant. Lori has been able to weather the changes as she tends to enjoy the challenge, but noted that it can be an adjustment and difficult for some.
As with all careers, Lori has had to face challenges both as a teacher and administrator. In looking back, she noted the toughest things she has had to deal with is when a child has a death in the family, a serious illness or has become part of the foster care system. Lori stated, “It weights heavy on our hearts. When children have difficulties, we feel it.” She is quick to credit staff for doing a wonderful job getting the kids the help they need when they need it, noting that staff find all types of ways to support children in need. She also mentioned that she was very proud of the staff and children this year as they had to transition from remote learning to hybrid and back to remote and then hybrid once again. “The COVID-19 pandemic is nothing anyone planned for and the staff and students have done an amazing job transitioning.”
Lori credits important lessons she learned growing up that have been instrumental in helping her make good decisions throughout her career. She often reflects on her parents a great deal. She stated, “My parents were extremely fair. My mother was able to look at challenges and choose the most important challenge to work on. She was also able to determine what needed attention and what needed time. I have learned a great deal from her. She is truly an amazing gal.” She remarked that when teaching, you often have more opportunity to reflect on how you were raised because you are dealing with children all day. She also appreciated former Rainier Principal, Stan Peerboom, who was a very sturdy and logical person. She paid close attention to his management style.
If Lori had to give advice to educators, her advice for them would be, “Pay attention to the people who are doing a really good job. You can learn a lot from other people.” And when asked what type of advice she would give to parents and children, she stated, “Turn off the TV and read to your children. Play games and spend time together as a family. Time goes fast.”
Lori enjoys keeping in touch with her former students and teachers. She has thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the families who have attended Robert Gray for generations. Many remain in the boundary area, so she has been able to see three generations of student come through while working at the district. She also has been blessed to remain in touch with her roots in Rainier, Oregon, as many employees who work at Robert Gray live in Rainier where she grew up and there are a surprising amount of students at Robert Gray with family connections in Rainier.
After a long career at Longview School District, Lori and her husband, Babe are looking forward to retirement where they can spend time doing those things they enjoy most. They are avid kayakers, hikers and gardeners and are looking forward to spending time in the great outdoors. Lori’s yard is full of plants and flowers. She and her husband, kayak around the states, and visit Montana and Idaho every summer exploring the beautiful lakes. She noted that her kayak has a motor that can last ten hours, which allows them plenty of time to explore. She also enjoys discovering the many natural hot springs that exist in the Pacific Northwest. Besides adventuring out, Lori will also be spending time with her mother who lives in the family home built by her father that overlooks the Columbia River, her brothers and sister and much more time with her son and daughter.
As she looked back at her long career, Lori is proud to have made it through to retirement. For those who know Lori well, you know that she battled a heavy case of whooping cough. As an administrator, the last few years have had their challenges including a union strike and now the pandemic. While all of those experiences make you stronger and wiser, and provide opportunity to grow and make things better, she will be happy when our staff and families can return to a more traditional school year. She has made it through with grace and determination, and has left a lasting impression on those who she has served.
Join us next week when we celebrate Mint Valley's principal, Jean Merritt!