Suzanne Leonard (left) was the principal at Houck Middle School for three years before taking the reins at Whiteaker (Submitted).

After working at Houck Middle School for nearly a decade, Suzanne Leonard will be taking over as the new principal at Whiteaker Middle School for the 2020-21 school year.

Leonard will be taking the place of Julia DeWitt, who has been the principal at Whiteaker since 2014 — DeWitt is trading places with Leonard and will now take on the same role at Houck.

“I am extremely excited to be at Whiteaker and to be around a staff that is so committed to serving the school and the community,” Leonard said.

Despite it being a tumultuous time to be an administrator due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leonard is entering the Whiteaker community at a unique time when part of the school is getting a structural makeover.

Whiteaker’s bond construction started earlier this summer and features renovations to the gym floor and a science classroom, as well as safety improvements, including a secure front entrance, office renovations and a secured vestibule.

However, the school is also keeping parts of the original gym for nostalgic purposes.

“I feel like the work being done will best utilize the space that we have and allow us to be more efficient and effective,” Leonard said. “But we want to preserve the memories of the old gym and keep the nostalgia alive for the Keizer community.”

When Leonard first started at Houck in 2012, she was an instructional math coach, working through different strategies with students and teachers for desired outcomes.

However, after two years, Leonard realized that she wanted her impact on students to go further.

“I wanted to strive to reach all kids with contact and engagement. That’s what motivated me to get into administration,” Leonard said.

In 2014, Leonard was named the assistant principal at Houck. Three years later, she was promoted to her first head principal position.

Leonard describes herself as a detail-oriented thinker that is big on social-emotional learning and serving the individual needs of students. Her math background also has a heavy influence in how she views education. But Leonard says her biggest asset as a principal is how she is able to develop relationships with her students and staff.

“I feel like one of my greatest strengths is being highly relational. That will be at the forefront of this transition,” Leonard said.

Having multi-tiered support systems in place is another key priority for Leonard. While she doesn’t have any immediate large-scale plans, Leonard will be looking for multitudes of ways to improve the school.

“My job is to come in, see what we have in place and look to strengthen it,” Leonard said. “It will involve a lot of listening.”

Leonard has lived in Salem for the majority of her life — graduating from South Salem High School in 1981 — so branching out into Keizer and serving the community is one of the things she’s most looking forward to about this school year.

“I have lived in Salem for a long time, so I’m looking forward to spread my roots and become a part of the Keizer community,” Leonard said “I’m hoping to join the Keizer Rotary or any other public service.”