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Parker principal draws inspiration from teachers

Pine Grove Elementary School Principal Molly Gnaegy

PARKER – In the twenty years that have passed since Molly Gnaegy arrived in Douglas County to teach kindergarten, student enrollment in the District has tripled, and Gnagey has advanced into the role of principal.

Gnaegy has been at the helm of Pine Grove Elementary School since 2011, and as the product of a small Iowa town, feels at home in the close-knit community. Buses are unnecessary for the neighborhood school, which serves the Stonegate neighborhood in Parker.

“No matter the weather, most students walk, scooter, ride bikes and skateboard to school,” Gnaegy shares.  “Students build community on the way to school, which carries over into the school day. Students wave and high five their siblings and neighbors in the hall and can often be heard making after school plans for their journey home.”

Q & A with Molly Gnaegy

What was your first job?
Teaching tennis lessons to the junior players and adults in our home town.

If you had the opportunity to pursue another career, what would you choose?
Something outside... outdoor guide of some kind, where I could enjoy the beautiful state of Colorado.

What advice would you share with a college graduate entering field of teaching?
Get ready to work harder than you've ever worked. Anybody can be a teacher. It's challenging to be a GREAT teacher. You will be rewarded more than you could ever imagine.

Who inspires you?
I'm inspired by positive teachers who think outside the box and want to create a special learning environment for their students to experience everyday. Teachers and leaders who find ways to get things done.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
I wish I could sing like Lady Gaga, play tennis like Serena Williams, ski like Lindsey Vonn and lead like my mentors.

If you could uninvent one thing, what would it be?
Video games. I worry about our youth and their inactivity.

What is the last book you read?
I recently read the book Wild and loved the story about the Pacific Coast Trail.

Have you recently seen a movie that left a lasting impression with you?
The movie Unbroken left me so impressed with the young men who served in World War II. I can't imagine the courage it took to survive the conditions they experienced.

What was your favorite subject in high school?
I was never a great student growing up. I was motivated by playing tennis, which provided me with a free college education. It wasn't until I worked on my Master's Degree that I really applied myself. Looking back I realize that sports gave me an opportunity that got me where I am today. I had coaches who taught me to persevere and work harder than anybody else to achieve my goals.

What is your favorite restaurant? 
Being empty nesters, my husband and I eat out often. We love to visit our local Lone Tree restaurants such as Via Bacci, and also love getting out of the suburbs and visiting some Denver greats like Benny's.

Hailing from a family of teachers, Gnaegy provided tennis instruction to junior players when she was in middle school, high school and college. The experience provided strong role models, and helped her establish a foundation for teaching that she has built upon over time.

“It seemed natural that I would become a teacher when I received a tennis scholarship to a teaching college, Wichita State University,” she remembers.

In addition to a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Wichita State, Gnaegy holds a Master's Degree in Elementary Education from Grand Canyon University, and earned her administrator license from the University of Denver.  

Gnaegy secured her first teaching job right out of college in Ft. Worth, Texas and subsequently taught in Chicago and Salt Lake City before settling in Colorado to teach at Bear Canyon Elementary School in 1995. In the time since, her career has blossomed.

“I have never felt so proud as when I was asked to open Elementary School #35 (Timber Trail Elementary) in 2003 as a second-grade teacher,” Gnaegy shares with a smile. “It was an amazing experience to be hired with others who shared my vision for teaching! We worked as a team to support one another in all decisions about curriculum, mascot selection, school colors, schedules and all of the decisions that come with starting a school from scratch. I will never forget those years and what it felt like to have an entire staff moving in the same direction!  It was great to be a teacher during those years.”

After four years teaching second grade at Timber Trail, Gnaegy advanced into the role of assistant principal at the school. In 2011 she was selected for the principalship at Pine Grove Elementary School.

Her philosophy for leading the school is straightforward.

“I believe that our students innately want to be the best they can be and that with high expectations, love and opportunity, they can achieve great things. With a strong RtI (response to intervention) process, all students can make significant growth each year, with the proper dedication to teamwork and individualized learning,” Gnaegy said.

“Teachers at Pine Grove are motivated by their students,” she continued. “As a staff, we are committed to making all decisions based on what is best for kids. This guides us in our decision making and keeps us focused.”

As for Gnaegy, she says the best part of her job as principal is "Lunch Bunch with Mrs. Gnaegy" every Friday afternoon. When students eat lunch in the cafeteria, they are encouraged to model three rules: Respect Yourself, Respect Others and Respect the Environment. In doing so , they earn “Grover Gotchas” from Pine Grove’s mascot Grover. Each Friday, one student from each grade level is selected from these recipients to have lunch with the principal.

“I get to connect with students in a small setting which helps me get to know them better,” she said.

While Gnaegy remains focused on what students need to learn and grow, she also acknowledges she has learned a lot along the way.

“As a teacher I was very fortunate to work for some excellent principals who gave me a strong foundation in leadership. I often hear their voices as I lead today. While I can only strive to be as effective as they were, I try to emulate their leadership by listening to all stakeholders and collaborating to make the best decisions for our school.”

April 8, 2015 | By SCPaulsen | Category: District, Elementary Education

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