Felicia Thames is ready for her next big challenge after a career with the district that has spanned over 16 years and seen her in roles ranging from first grade teacher to Prairie View Elementary principal.
Starting July 1, she will become the principal of Central Middle School. She takes over from Nate Swenson, who is returning to his hometown to become principal of Little Falls Community Middle School.
Thames has always been drawn to education. As a child, her next-door neighbor was the high school principal, who encouraged her to serve on various school committees.
“I feel like I’ve always been the kind of person who feels like I can make a difference,” Thames said.
After teaching first and second grade at Forest Hills for four years, Thames made the switch to being an administrator.
“I love connecting with kids who are struggling and I feel like I can help move them in a better direction,” she said.
This focus on helping correct behavioral challenges led her to become dean at Central Middle School, a role she had for four years before becoming associate principal at Prairie View Elementary.
Now, after having served as principal at Prairie View for the past five years, Thames is ready and excited for the move to CMS.
Thames says that middle school “is such a pivotal time in the lives of our students. It can also be a challenging time. I’m really excited to help them make good choices on their educational journey and help them get the most out of their education.”
Asked about challenges facing her in the new position, Thames expressed what has become something of a refrain amongst educators at all levels.
“I think COVID has taken a lot out of everybody, from our students, to our teachers, to our families,” she said.
Thames stressed that the pandemic’s disruptions hit CMS especially hard since the school was already undergoing the huge change of adding an entirely new grade to the building.
“How do we build that cohesive environment where it’s not only about academics, but also focuses on the social/emotional side?” she said. “The challenge is helping create an environment where we recognize that together we are a community and together we need to be supportive of one another.”
Thames acknowledged that last year was a difficult one at CMS. When asked how she can come in and make a difference as a principal, she said, “I think the key is making it a focus area and a priority for next year. Making sure we have very clear communication with family, students, and staff that this is what we want our community to be.
“I think we make a lot of assumptions that kids know what to do,” she continued. “And the truth is, they don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we need to be able to teach them and show them, ‘these are the steps we need to take.’”
Thames also stressed the importance of finding the time to meet with different groups of students and providing a listening ear.
“I want to make sure that students, families, and staff are getting everything they need to make next year a successful school year,” she said.
This summer, Thames will be preparing by interviewing current staff and reviewing survey results. “I want to look for themes — what’s working well, where can we make adjustments,” she said. “How can we make sure that all our families’ voices are important?”
Thames feels like her long history with the district has given her the ability to hit the ground running.
“I think it’s very helpful to have been in the district for so long and to really know the process,” she said. “I already know so many of the students and staff.”
Her last week at Prairie View was bittersweet. She said there were many tears shed with staff and the families she’s gotten to know over the past nine years.
“So part of me was so sad to leave Prairie View,” she said. “But at the same time, I like to be challenged. That’s probably why I move positions every four to five years. Even though I know it’s going to be challenging, it’s also what fires me up.”
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