GUERNSEY – “Positivity breeds positivity.” That’s one of the messages that Liesl Sisson hopes everyone at Guernsey-Sunrise Schools will adopt in the coming school year.
Sisson was hired at the June school board meeting as the new principal for DK-12 at Guernsey-Sunrise Schools.
“I am an optimist,” said Liesl. “I believe if we can always find the good in something, then we can build on that.”
She is looking forward to the challenges of a new position, one she seems well-prepared for.
Liesl was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming and graduated from Natrona County High School in 2003. She and her brother swam competitively from elementary age on and she says she still enjoys swimming when she is able. Hunting and horseback riding were also on the family’s calendar. Her parents and brother still reside and work in Casper.
She is married to Dan Sisson, a 1997 Guernsey-Sunrise First State Bank branch president in Guernsey. They welcomed their first child, a daughter named Claire, last fall. The Sissons live just west of Guernsey.
Following high school, Liesl attended Capser College where she received an A.S. degree in mathematics. She also served as vice-president of the Phi Theta Kappa sorority. She moved on to Laramie and received her B.A. in Secondary Education and B.S. Mathematics degrees, graduating in 2007. She earned her Master’s Degree in Mathematics through the University of Northern Colorado. She also received a Mathematics Teacher Leader Program certificate there. In 2016, she received a certificate through the University of Wyoming in Education Administration.
She began her teaching career in 2007 as a math teacher at Wheatland High School. She remained there until 2015 when she came to Guernsey-Sunrise, where she has served as the K-12 Instructional Facilitator, Curriculum Director and Concurrent Math Instructor until taking the prinicpal’s position.
Liesl says she chose the educational career field because school is something she’s always loved. “I was always playing school with my friends when we were very young, so I guess that was the beginning. I’ve always liked math and was pretty good at it too. I also enjoyed being a leader, which has pushed me to seek out the administrative side of education.”
When asked about the strengths and weaknesses at Guernsey-Sunrise, she sees the staff’s dedication, concern and caring for the students as one of the top strong points. “Our teachers really care about our kids.” She also believes that, as in most small communities, the school should serve as the center of the community—the place to go. “We’ve been involved in a lot of community events and that will continue,” said Liesl.
She acknowledges that the school is likely in for some challenges, particularly in funding, in the years to come. “School funding in Wyoming is heavily dependent on energy dollars. We need to diversify our income in Wyoming so that we don’t have shortfalls as though likely to be seen due to the decreased coal exports in the past few years.”
Another area of concern is the ongoing process of meeting achievement levels, something she described as a “moving target.” “So many things are constantly changes, especially with the advent of so much technology.”
With regard to change, Liesl believes Guernsey-Sunrise has a strong foundation. “Hiring an assistant principal will be a real asset to our school – it was a good idea to do so.”
The school will also see changes this year in the elementary as some of the classes are going to be split to keep the student count lower and allow more time for teachers to spend with each student.
School safety is also a challenge but Liesl feels the school is doing as much as possible to keep students safe. “We’ve implemented the Raptor system and will be using it full-time now.” Raptor is a visitor management system that allows the school to screen anyone who comes into the building via their driver’s license or state or government issued identification. The school will also be applying bullet-proof film to the windows and continue to work toward the single-entrance goal. “We also have an emergency protocol partnership with the National Guard and the school is working with the police department for input on determining the best ways to keep our students safe.”
Communication between home and school is also something Liesl feels is critically important. “I think we have a pretty good relationship with most of our families but communication can always improve and it is a two-way street . We send out newsletters, we have a Facebook site, a website and parents can access their children’s attendance and grades through PowerSchool. But we also need parents to use the chain of command and let us know when they have a problem. We can’t fix what we don’t know about.”
Guernsey-Sunrise has seen a lot of staff turnover in the past few years. Liesl says she feels that’s actually more normal when looked at more closely. “Guernsey had a solid base of teachers for many years and many were hired around the same time. When retirement ages hit, schools may lose larger groups of teachers because of that factor. It’s a cycle– one I encountered in Wheatland as well.”
Liesl says parents being involved in their children’s lives in and out of school is the best thing parents can do to help the school do its job. “Support your children at home with the work that is going on in the classroom. Volunteer when you are able. Keep the communication between school and home open.”
Motivation of students and staff engagement are priorities Liesl wants to work on. “Our students are best served when they are engaged in meaningful work in the classroom. The same can be said about staff—when they are engaged in meaningful work for the district as a whole, the culture and productivity can reach new heights. When students know their “why” and how school will help them reach their goals, motivation will be evident.”
Asked about how well prepared the graduates leaving Guernsey-Sunrise are, Liesl said, “This is an area where we have room for improvement. Our ACT scores have improved which is the benchmark for college readiness. Our curriculum is being aligned to the state standards. Teachers have identified priority standards and are working on assessments to determine where each student is at in terms of proficiency levels on each skill in their content area.”
Liesl just returned from a workshop in Atlanta where she learned about working on “soft skills.” “Interaction with other is so important—kids need to know how to meet someone, shake their hand, make eye contact and be engaged and comfortable in conversation.”
Liesl officially starts August 1 in her new position but she has already spent time at school this summer to make the transition. Liesl says she’s ready for the challenge and a new start. She won’t have to wait much longer – it all begins August 16.