District 16 hires new Spanish Immersion principal

District 16 continues to announce leadership changes for the 2014-2015 school year.

Elizabeth Linares
Elizabeth Linares

The district hired Elizabeth Linares as Woodcrest Elementary Spanish Immersion School’s new principal April 16.

Days earlier, it became public knowledge that Westwood Intermediate School Principal Tom Larson will become principal of middle level education at the building next year, overseeing fourth and fifth grades, as he has for the past two years, in addition to sixth through eighth grades.

Linares has passion for kids, language

The district started its search for a new principal at Woodcrest in March after other leadership changes in the district left the position vacant.

With Director of Special Education Carolyn Cherry’s resignation effective at the end of the school year, Mike Callahan, current principal at Northpoint Elementary School, Blaine, stepped in as director of student services and special education.

Woodcrest Principal Judi Kahoun had the opportunity to jump from Woodcrest to Northpoint, leaving the Spanish Immersion principalship unfilled.

Administrators and school board members wanted to see a candidate who speaks fluent Spanish assume the role, but “ultimately, the most important thing is finding a quality educational leader – whether they speak Spanish or not,” Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said.

Linares is fluent en español, mastering the language as a teacher at Colegio Americano in Morelos, Mexico, earlier in her career.

Though Spanish language education is important to Linares, it isn’t her primary focus daily. “What I’m really passionate about is kids,” she said.

Working with children wasn’t always part of her plan. When Linares started college at Quincy University in Qunicy, Illinois, she had every intention of becoming a lawyer. Scheduling difficulties prompted her to major in elementary education.

She started her career as a kindergarten teacher in Edina Public Schools. Several classrooms in their new French Immersion program met above hers, and she wandered upstairs one day to see what it was all about. “I was absolutely amazed,” she said.

After honing her language skills in Mexico, she became interested in finding a position at a Spanish Immersion school in the Twin Cities. She held several roles, including classroom teacher, at Park Spanish Immersion School in St. Louis Park.

She became principal of Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion School, a K-6 school in the Eden Prairie School District, when it opened nine years ago.

The transitions both Park and Eagle Heights schools experienced as they grew are similar to what Linares sees happening in Spring Lake Park as Woodcrest adds its sixth grade level next year, making it a K-5 school.

“So far, they’ve done everything right,” Linares said. She looks forward to exploring a “hybrid” model of Spanish Immersion education, perhaps employing both full and dual immersion tactics with a large percentage of Hispanic students, nearly 14 percent of students citing Spanish as their first language.

New organization at Westwood

When Westwood Middle School Principal Paula Hoff leaves Spring Lake Park at the end of the year for a position in the Minnetonka School District, Larson will assume charge of all grade levels housed in the Westwood complex.

Tom Larson
Tom Larson

Larson has been principal of Westwood Intermediate School for two years, and before that time, he served as principal of the Spanish Immersion School, Lighthouse School and Woodcrest Elementary School in the district.

Two associate principals – one for each of the schools – will work under Larson.

Joel Young will retain his position as associate principal of the middle school. The search for an associate at the intermediate level is ongoing.

The two schools will retain their individuality, and parents and students should not experience drastic changes, according to the district.

“[Larson] has demonstrated the ability to work in partnership with staff and parents, who he will work with to enhance the alignment and programming across the two schools,” Ronneberg said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]