It might be Shane Lis’ first run as principal, but it isn’t his first time in leadership.
The new Selwyn Elementary School principal always knew he wanted to be an elementary school teacher; it all started while working at environmental education camps as a teen. Lis got the chance to work one-on-one with kids, giving tours of wildlife preserves and teaching students about nature.
“I really fell in love with teaching at that time,” Lis said. “I knew from then on I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.”
Being an administrator wasn’t exactly in the cards, Lis said, since his love for the classroom seemed to outweigh management. But after being nominated by a principal to participate in the Leaders for Tomorrow principal program through Winthrop University, Lis started seeing things differently.
Lis graduated from University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education after moving to Charlotte from New York when his wife, Mary, had a new job opportunity. He joined Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2002 as a teacher at David Cox Road Elementary School where he taught first grade, kindergarten and fourth grade. While at David Cox, the school and district was forced to cut back on staff during a down economy, Lis said, and he began helping out in the office doing some light administrative work.
“I very much wanted to be a teacher, but my principal encouraged me to become an administrator,” Lis said, adding he decided to participate in the Leaders for Tomorrow program since the district would help pay for tuition to get his master’s degree.
But while taking night classes through Winthrop, Lis had a change of heart.
“I learned about the impact I could make,” he said, adding that his experience as teaching assistant principal at David Cox Road Elementary inspired him to stay with administration.
After graduating from the program with a master’s degree in educational leadership from Winthrop, he served as assistant principal at Bain Elementary School and then Whitewater Middle School, where he helped implement the “school within the school model.”
As a child, Lis said he had learning disabilities that made school and learning difficult. He quickly learned the importance of relationships with influential teachers.
“I wanted to be successful, but it took a lot of work for me to be successful,” Lis said. “It was important that I develop those positive relationships.”
Those are the kind of teachers he’s excited to work with at Selwyn, Lis said – teachers whose priorities are teaching every student, tailoring the education to each child’s specific level, style and need. Already, he’s learned from Selwyn teachers in one-on-one meetings that teaching is more than test scores.
“We are going to try and make sure every child’s academic needs are met and surpassed,” Lis said.
While Lis will spend much of his first months of school listening and observing, he said there are some things staff are working on to implement for the first day of school, including changes in student safety. So far, the school has formed several teacher committees to focus on topics like transportation for both the carpool and bus lines, making sure processes are streamlined and tweaked before Aug. 26.
Working at Selwyn won’t be the only big change for Lis this year though, he said. Lis and his wife, along with their 4-year-old daughter Maggie and 2-year-old son Patrick, are expecting their third child in October.
“It will be a balancing act, but it’s one we’ve done before,” Lis said. “My wife works full-time, my daughter is starting kindergarten at Torrence Creek (Elementary) as I start a new job. We try to balance the work life with spending time with the kids as we can.”