Valley Crossing Community School has been home to Mary Anderson for the past five years since she first started as the school's principal.

However, Anderson had to say goodbye to the school since she started a new position with the Stillwater Area School District last week.

Anderson will serve as the District 834 executive director of elementary curriculum, leadership and innovation.

"Valley was a tremendous experience that has led me to this new position," she said.

Valley Crossing's new principal, Julie Hartman, started last week.

Anderson, who lives in Hager City, Wis., and rents an apartment in Afton, said she was drawn to a career in education thanks to her older sister who was a teacher.

"It was kind of a natural thing for me," she said.

Anderson's career began in 1980 when she was teaching students with hearing impairments in Illinois.

In 1985 she began teaching first grade at a school in Illinois.

In 1991 she started teaching sixth grade at a school in Wisconsin before beginning as principal for an elementary school in Red Wing, Minn., in 1994.

"I just find joy in the younger kids," she said. "I like their energy, I like their innocence, I like their spark.

"I just like that whole developmental process of the little people."

Anderson started at Valley Crossing in 2007.

"I found out about the position at Valley Crossing and when I went to tour the school I was kind of drawn to the multi-age, the responsive classroom and the approach to reading," she said. "It just seemed like a nice match for me philosophically."

A unique home at Valley Crossing

Anderson said she most enjoyed Valley Crossing's focus on the responsive classroom philosophy, which is a research-backed approach to elementary education that increases academic achievement, decreases problem behaviors, improves social skills, and leads to more high-quality instruction.

"What I've always appreciated about Valley is its commitment to responsive classroom," she said, "and because of the uniqueness, the teachers at Valley Crossing really had a lot of say in what materials we use and how we deliver instruction."

Anderson said her favorite aspect of teaching is just the classroom.

"I like the joy of the classroom to be honest," she said. "I know that might sound a little hokey, but there's never a day that goes by where you don't have the opportunity to have a lot of fun."

Anderson said some of the challenges of being principal at Valley Crossing included working with teachers, parents, the administrators of the three partner districts - District 833, District 834, District 622 - and Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

"I had to make sure that everyone feels they have their voice heard," Anderson said, "and sometimes that can be like spinning plates, but that's really important."

Moving to Stillwater

Anderson said she was drawn to the position with District 834 because it was a way for her to grow professionally.

"It was just a great opportunity to expand my skill set and take my experiences and my own education and move them forward," she said.

Since Anderson had previously worked with District 834 in her capacity as principal at Valley Crossing, she said she felt confident moving into the position.

"It's sort of like I had a sneak preview," she said.

Anderson's position of executive director of elementary curriculum, leadership and innovation developed out of a restructuring the district went through earlier this year when then-Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Chris Lennox left.

Lennox's position was a kindergarten- through 12th-grade position whereas Anderson will be strictly kindergarten through sixth grade.

Anderson will be working a lot with curriculum for the District 834 elementary schools, as well as doing a lot of professional development work for the district.

"I'm going to be looking at ways to support the schools and trying to look at 21st century learning," she said. "Those are three things that I'm completely drawn to in education - I'm hoping it will be a good fit."

Anderson said she is looking forward to her new position with District 834 and feels she is in a good position thanks to her experiences at Valley Crossing.

"Quite frankly, I think my years at valley have really opened my eyes to a lot of different ways to meet the needs of kids," she said. "Because of the complexity, the uniqueness of Valley Crossing I feel like I can move into a district position."

Anderson said she is going to miss working with students every day though.

"I'm really going to miss the community feel between kids, staff and parents," she said. "I'm going to really miss the day to day energy you get in an elementary building."

Anderson's advice for the new Valley Crossing principal is: "Don't be afraid to sometimes let the teachers lead you," she said. "I can learn more from teachers than they'll ever learn from me."