ARTHURDALE — Preston County’s second-largest campus has a new principal — again.
Katie McDonald takes the helm as the third principal in as many school years, but she plans to stick around at least five more years.
Long-time administrator Mark Graham shepherded the consolidation of Valley Elementary and West Preston Middle onto a single campus, then retired in the spring of 2017. Leah Moss took over that fall. Moss left at the end of the 2017-2018 term to take a position in Upshur County, where she previously worked.
McDonald isn’t from Preston, but she feels very close to this part of the world. Her mother is from Morgantown and despite growing up south of Pittsburgh, McDonald’s loyalties are to the Mountain State.
She chose her career path early.
“From middle school, I wanted to be a high school choir director,” McDonald said.
She graduated from WVU with a degree in music education and went to work at Petersburg High School in Grant County.
“I took on a lot of leadership roles in my school. I was really interested in it,” she said. She also took on the role of instructional technology specialist, was the school web master and student council advisor.
Soon after she started teaching, she started work online to get her master’s in administration from WVU. After four years at Petersburg she moved on to become principal at Brandywine Elementary in Pendleton County.
McDonald has always been active in 4-H, and stayed at the Preston County 4-H Camp her first week working here. It was a return visit, because she was at the camp about six years ago.
For more than 20 years McDonald’s mother was statewide director of 4-H. She and Preston 4-H Extension Agent David Hartley — who was her mom’s grad student — are long-time friends, she noted.
Having local connections helps, but she recognizes that leading a school of about 765 presents some obstacles.
“I think the biggest challenge is ,,, just getting everybody on the same page,” McDonald said. Communication is key, she said, communication between her and teachers, and between teachers and students.
Preston Schools Superintendent Steve Wotring said that’s one of the reasons the interviewing committee recommended McDonald for the job.
“Her enthusiasm for tackling this tough job is infectious,” Wotring said. “She is focused on providing quality opportunities for students to succeed at West Preston School. She is an excellent communicator and will work to make West Preston a community school.”
Increasing student engagement is important, McDonald said, and technology can play a part in that. Everyone needs to know how to use the basic Microsoft tools provided to all schools by the state.
It’s just not practical to expect students to work all on paper when they are going to be working in a digital world, she said.
“My big thing for this first year is to get everyone into the building, on the same page,” McDonald said.
The school has good grade level teams, so now the communication needs to improve between grade levels, she said. For example, if teachers at one level see students are having a problem with a subject, they can work with teachers at the previous grade level on a solution.
Attendance is also a focus, she said. If kids want to be at school, they’re more likely to attend, McDonald noted.