POULSBO — Poulsbo Elementary School Principal Claudia Alves could barely hold back tears as hundreds of children held up paper hearts, with personal messages and drawings expressing their thanks for her many years of dedication to their school.
Tissues were handed around to parents and staff members, who weren’t ready to see a friend, mentor and passionate educator leave the North Kitsap School District.
Alves worked for 20 years in the North Kitsap School District, teaching at Gordon Elementary School, Kingston Junior High School and Poulsbo Elementary School — and that was only half of her 46 years as an educator.
This year, she did something she never had to do before. She decided to pass the torch to someone new.
A surprise assembly was presented for Alves, who is retiring, on June 16. Students, parents and staff gathered in Poulsbo Elementary School’s gymnasium to congratulate Alves and reflect on her achievements as a principal.
Alves’s six-year-old granddaughter Rian Hager, a first-grade student at Poulsbo Elementary, opened the assembly by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Alves’s friend, retired teacher Suzanne Wistrand, followed, talking about her experience with Alves while working in NKSD.
“I first met Mrs. Alves in 2001,” Wistrand said. “We participated in a team-building activity at the Air and Space Museum. We were role-playing the explosion that happened on Apollo XIII when it was headed to the moon. Mrs. Alves and I were a team, communicating in space with the NASA experts on the ground who were trying to save us so we got home. I recall after the role-playing that I had the perfect team partner.”
Wistrand discussed some of Alves’s deeds and achievements in education — creating fundraisers with parents, and pushing for ways to promote art activities while maintaining personal relationships with students, parents and staff.
Josiah Martin, a fifth-grader at Poulsbo Elementary School, honored his principal with a few words.
“I remember in first grade I got in a lot of trouble,” he said. “But it was fun having you here. I always remember having our birthdays called out on the intercom. I’ve got to say, we’ve all gone to the principal’s office at least once — even if we were not in trouble.”
Poulsbo Middle School speakers Jackson Reeves and Cory Spadafore also had a few thoughts to share.
“She is always positively involved with the student body,” Reeves said. “She had an enthusiastic love for this school.”
Spadafore said, “Mrs. Alves was a big asset to my success at Poulsbo Elementary. She always made an effort to come into the classrooms to help us work. She is very involved with the school and makes any situation possible.”
Past and current PTSA presidents gathered to talk about Alves’s achievements in one word: T.I.M.E.
“T” stood for talent: PTSA members said Alves was highly involved in team-building, art projects, and was able to use her skills as a leader to change the school community.
“I” stood for involved: Alves was a part of many PTSA events, participating in fundraisers, community clean-up projects and other school/community events.
“M” stood for meaningful moments: Alves helped install the school’s new computer lab and contributed to various art projects at Poulsbo Elementary. The school’s 2014 Seahawks parade was also said by staff and students to a be a highlight.
“E” stood for eternal: The PTSA said her contributions to the many schools in North Kitsap will always be remembered.
Alves, who tearfully took the podium, thanked Poulsbo Elementary School for giving her the opportunity to work with students and staff.
“Being a principal is the most fun job in the world,” Alves said to the students. “I don’t just have 25 or even 36 students. I have 502.”
At the end of the assembly, the entire student body expressed their thanks to Alves by revealing a collection of hearts. Each student held up a red heart sign with notes, pictures and thanks to their beloved friend and principal.
The staff gave her a variety of gifts, from an Oregon Ducks-themed alarm clock (one of her favorite teams) with every student’s thumbprint in the back, to a little red free library that will be placed in front of the school.
Alves said after the assembly she believes that a staff member’s relationship with the student and helping them grow as a person is the most important part of their job.
“It’s not about the test scores. It’s much more that that,” she said. “That has been the focus for me. I’ve always wanted the kids to end up being good kids.”
Alves said she is excited to have Kingston High School Assistant Principal Drew Crandall succeed her at Poulsbo Elementary. As she passes the torch to him, she said she believes he can keep the love of education vibrantly glowing bright at the school.
“He’s going to be amazing,” she said. “It would be really, really hard to leave if I didn’t feel like [the students] weren’t going to get an amazing principal. He’s young, he’s enthused, he’s an experienced educator, and very personable.”
She said, “He seems to be a ‘kid magnet.’ ”
Upon her retirement, Alves plans to spend more time gardening, reading, spending time with family and friends and plans to do as much traveling as possible. She’s currently preparing for a trip to Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Norway.
But Alves won’t be leaving the education field forever. She plans to supervise student teachers and principals for Western Washington University’s education program.
Staff members and students may even see her wandering through the halls when she volunteers in her granddaughter’s classes.