[Posted October 14, 2020]
Lisa Newlyn started her new job as principal of Robert Gray Middle School on July 1, 2020, in the midst of a tumultuous time for students, staff, and parents alike. But despite the many challenges of remote learning dictated by pandemic, she says, as a “realistic optimist” she can always find a silver lining.
Newlyn, a fourth-generation Portlander and graduate of Wilson High School (class of 1989), never thought she would have to say goodbye to staff at Forest Park Elementary, her previous post of six years, from a computer screen. “That was hard,” she says, but getting to know her new staff and students over zoom offered a few unexpected benefits.
Meeting many of her new students over Zoom, instead of feeling distanced, actually gave Newlyn more of an opportunity to meet them one-on-one, she says, adding “it was an opportunity to really connect with each one of them--all five screens of them!” Instead of group meetings, she’s gotten to know her staff through more individual Zoom sessions, as well as in-person walks around the neighborhood. She says, “Seeing staff or students in their home settings over Zoom has been a fun way to get to know them quickly.”
Newlyn sees the potential for more silver linings in the technological changes necessitated by the pandemic as well: “The integration of technology we relied on in the spring for distance learning will make learning more accessible for kids, even when we get back to normal.”
Now that school has started, Newlyn says it’s strange to be in the building with no students, so when teachers come into the building (they can choose to work from home or from their classrooms), she’s glad to be able to see them in person. She appreciates the flexibility to work at home in the afternoons, where she can check in with her own kids, both students at Wilson who are at home in remote classrooms all day. While actual classroom visits are not possible these days, she can still make connections with students by dropping into virtual classrooms just to say “hi.” In normal times, Newlyn says If she sees students outside of school she wouldn’t bother them, but in Covid times, as on a recent afternoon when a few students were hanging around outside the school, she definitely seizes any opportunity to chat face-to-face.
Newlyn’s history at PPS is a long one, beginning as a student at Hayhurst Elementary, a member of the first class at Robert Gray Middle School, and continuing through Wilson. After high school, she graduated from Western Oregon University where she earned her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. Subsequently she earned a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and earned her administrative licensure at Lewis and Clark College in 2009.