Her career began nearly three decades ago in the Missouri Bootheel in the tiny town of Portageville, located about 160 miles away.
Dr. Lee Ann Wallace, Kingston K-14 superintendent, taught fifth- and sixth-grade students in a class called Systematic Techniques for Academic Recovery, or STAR, for the first two years of her career. This experience afforded her the opportunity to teach in her small rural hometown and work with students who were struggling academically.
Two years later, Wallace transferred to a fourth-grade position. Her experience as a STAR teacher helped her become a stronger teacher for her fourth-grade students.
Five years later, a preschool position opened and Wallace asked to transfer to that position. Many people asked her why she wanted to work with kids so young after teaching in upper elementary and middle school.
“It was an easy answer for me,” she said. “I wanted to be students’ and parents’ first experience with school.”
Wallace’s goal was to ensure they had a positive experience because that would set the tone for the students’ journey in education.
“I loved that position so much!” she said.
While working as a fourth-grade teacher, Wallace decided to pursue a degree in education administration. Then tragedy struck one month into her degree when she lost her mother, her best friend. That year was extremely challenging for Wallace as she juggled being a mom to three sons, a wife, classroom teacher, and graduate student, all while trying to survive the loss of her mother.
“There is something about the spirit of an educator,” she said. “We are resilient and it is not something I can explain.”
After teaching for four years in preschool, Wallace applied for a principal position at the Hayti R-2 School District. She was chosen to serve as PK-4th grade principal at Mathis Elementary School where she was responsible for staff evaluation, curriculum development and alignment, professional development for the staff and overall district, discipline, data analysis, budgeting federal funds for the district Reading First coordinator, and more.
Wallace and her committed staff worked together to achieve reading initiatives and saw major improvements on their annual progress report from the state.
Later, Wallace decided to pursue her doctorate in educational leadership. She also wanted the experience of working for a larger school district, so she applied and became a principal at Hillsboro R-3 for three years.
“My ultimate goal was to be a superintendent,” she said, “so I spoke to my superintendent about my aspirations and I asked if he would share any openings with me.”
He shared Kingston K-14’s information with her, so she applied and was offered the position in February 2020.
Wallace is working in her first year as superintendent at Kingston K-14 where she is “committed to excellence in education and passionate about this profession.”
She described herself as a “big picture thinker.”
“I look at problems from the viewpoint of everyone impacted by decisions,” Wallace said. “I am positive and upbeat, even in challenging times.”
She likes to challenge the status quo.
“Education changes all the time,” said Wallace, “and it is so easy to get stuck in the way things have always been.”
She said this mindset is what inhibits personal growth.
“I believe in healthy conflict, because without healthy conflict we do not grow,” she said.
Wallace’s personal goal is to strive to become an even better educational leader. She works hard and assumes her duties with a sincere desire to improve on a daily basis. She also understands the value in networking with colleagues to find answers to questions.
“I strive to lead by example,” she said, “and I have high expectations for myself, just as I do for those who work alongside me.”
Wallace is a wife and mother and says she has not forgotten what it was like to be a student, teacher or principal. She values and respects each person who works in a school because she knows how important it is for all voices to be heard.
“I attack every situation with a team approach,” she said. “Everyone has ideas and I want people to be comfortable sharing their thoughts.”
Wallace said she is focused on not losing sight of why she became an educator.
“No matter what role you hold in a school, we are all here to do what is best for our students.”
Wallace said this school year, although extremely challenging, was one she welcomed wholeheartedly. She was emotional driving to school on the first day as she saw students at their bus stops.
“Yes, I cried and I wasn’t the only one,” she said. “We were all happy and excited to see students in the halls again.”
Throughout her first year at Kingston, Wallace’s goal has been to ensure everyone feels safe and happy and that the district is meeting the emotional, professional and academic needs of students, families and the staff.
Wallace said her first year as superintendent has been about learning.
“I want to understand the culture and what is most important to our Cadet community,” she said.
She has strived to work with her administrative team and staff to research best practices to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction to help students become successful in life.
Although the pandemic has been difficult, it has provided positive opportunities such as looking into different ways to educate students.
“We know all students do not learn the same and we are learning to be more adaptive to meeting their needs,” said Wallace.
Kingston staff have been learning more about technology, Google Classrooms, conducting Zoom meetings and virtual education.
“Our teachers are resilient and they never cease to amaze me at how they will step up to the challenge,” she said. “We will continue to work to be more innovative and provide many learning opportunities to meet the needs of all of our staff and students.”
Safety remains a focus at Kingston K-14. COVID-19 has been and continues to be a challenge for the district. The district is doing its best to follow guidelines set by the Washington County Health Department to keep staff and students safe.
Wallace said she is proud of their students, staff and community because “it really does take everyone working together to make the best of any bad situation.”
She said she is “filled with so much pride working for the Kingston K-14 School District.”
“Sometimes you find a place that feels like home, and I feel like I am home.”
Wallace is married to her high school sweetheart, Lee, who recently retired after completing 30 years of teaching and coaching with the Portageville School District. He continues to drive a bus and takes care of and paints emblems on ball fields. They have three sons, Lee, 28, Bryce, 25, and Bradley, 23.
“My husband and our boys have always been supportive and provided the love and encouragement needed to balance the demands of family, administration and pursuing my dream to become a superintendent where I hope to make a positive difference in the lives of students and the adults who work with students,” she said.
The “family atmosphere” she promotes at school is a reflection of her close relationships with family and friends.
“I believe God puts us where we are meant to be, when we are meant to be there, and for this placement, I am thankful,” said Wallace. “I am so grateful for this opportunity to serve this great school community and to love and support our staff, students and families.”
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal