President’s Perspective: Q&A With NAESP President Barbara Chester

September 2010, Volume 34, Issue 1 

New NAESP President Barbara Chester has served elementary and middle-level students with distinction since 1974, and her work to enrich students’ lives and improve the learning communities she has been a part of has received recognition at the district and national levels.

This summer, Chester took over as president of the NAESP Board of Directors, a group of practicing principals and key instruction leaders actively involved in shaping the long-term impact of school improvement efforts. She recently sat down with NAESP staff members to discuss her career as an educator and her vision for the Association.

Why did you decide to become an educator?
Well the truth is I never wanted to be a teacher. I really wanted to be a forest ranger, but when I grew up girls weren’t forest rangers. In college, I realized I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher and that’s exactly where I started.

Have you held any other education-related positions?
I basically went from being a fourth-grade teacher one year to being an elementary principal, [with] a three-month stint at a special education school in between, where I really got thrown into the deep end. When I lived in Colorado, I also served as director of staff development as well as being an elementary principal.

How did these other positions shape the type of principal you are?
Working as a kindergarten teacher shaped the type principal I am because the experience of learning how to work with early learners and helping them become readers helped me understand more about how children learn. It also opened up some doors to learn about brain research and how we function as learners. Working as a principal at a special education school gave me a different kind of understanding of how we treat every child, especially students who have been diagnosed with some kind of a disability. It taught me to not just look at what’s on the surface but to look at what’s underneath and see who they are as a person.

When did you join NAESP and how has membership benefited your career?
I joined NAESP in 1985, and I got to build connections and friendships with people right away. It’s a way to not be alone in what can be a very lonely job. The Association also became my knowledge base.

What kinds of support do principals need, and how can an association provide this support?
Principals need to feel like somebody has their back. They need an association advocating for the things they need to do their jobs. They need to feel supported when they are making decisions for which they will be held accountable. And they need someone to provide the background knowledge and support that comes from professional development opportunities beyond their own districts.

What’s the biggest impact that you would like to see NAESP make during your tenure as president?
I think NAESP is already beginning to make an impact in federal advocacy. Having a voice at the table is huge for members. It lets them feel like their association is there for them. I also think a lot of principals who are out there in single or small school districts need to have the ability to communicate with us. If we can provide a resource to them without making them drive 250 miles to reach a center, that’s going to be a huge benefit to them. I’d like to help all members feel they have a personal connection with their professional association—NAESP.

What are some of your non-education, nonprofessional interests? 
I garden, I cook, I read, and I’m a bad golfer. I used to sail, and fly airplanes. I’m a farm kid and when you grow up on a farm, that’s where your roots lie. I love to spend hours in the garden. I’d like to be a better golfer, and I hope I will be one of these years. I’d like to do more things and I keep thinking, “Maybe I’ll have some time to do them.” As I get older, I realize you don’t have to wait until “someday” to do things. Enjoy the future now.

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