At the tender age of five, Alicia Denniston already knew she wanted to become a teacher, and it was an aspiration that never faltered. Both of her parents were educators, and she saw firsthand the impact they had on their students. She wanted to do the same one day, and she has.
Denniston taught in Michigan, Ohio and other parts of Indiana before settling into Westfield High School (WHS) in 2007. She taught English as a new language as well as Spanish before becoming assistant principal at WHS in 2012. In June of 2020, she became co-interim principal with Bill Naas as they took the reins and led the staff into the daunting new school year.
While a fresh school year is typically met with giddy excitement and eager anticipation, this year is different. Besides being in the midst of a global pandemic, the school is undergoing a massive construction project, which makes for a lot of moving pieces.
“Between construction and COVID-19, the election year and the racial tensions, it’s been a lot,” says Denniston, who was named the new principal of WHS in October following an extensive interview process. “We’ve always been passionate about making all of our students life-ready. We want them to feel welcome and thriving.”
Though the year has been full of challenges, it has also been a year when the staff has been more united than ever, according to Denniston.
“They understand the sacrifices they are making and risks they are taking because our mission has stayed the same,” Denniston says. “Student learning still has to be at the forefront, even in the midst of changes.”
Denniston feels thankful to have the trust of her staff.
“That’s what has given me what I need to hit the ground running,” she says. “We need to be good to one another and look out for one another.”
When Denniston led a staff meeting in late July, she started by reminding the staff members of their initial desire to pursue a career in education. She then went on to address the challenges they would face that are unique to this year, and how they will overcome those obstacles so their mission can still move forward.
“By framing it that way, it reminded them of that foundation that’s needed,” says Denniston, who holds high expectations for all students. “We believe in rigor for all. Every student can learn and be the best version of themselves.”
Denniston has four children with her husband Matt, a high school choral director and member of the National Guard.
“I never want to be in a place where I see education as a job,” Denniston says. “It’s a calling. It’s a mission. I feel as passionate about it today as I ever did, because I believe that education can change the world.”
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing