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Walder named SD Elementary Principal of the Year

Legacy Elementary principal Samantha Walder was surprised to be named South Dakota Elementary Principal of the Year last week.

While she knew she was nominated because there was an application process, superintendent Jennifer Lowery and staff members brought her husband, who was subbing at the middle school, her daughter from the middle school and her son to Legacy for the surprise announcement. They also gathered the students and staff and had a fun parade for her.

“They did a great job of surprising me,” Walder said. “More than anything though I’m so proud of my team because this is not something that you are recognized with alone. It’s about our team and this is just as much about our team as it is about me.”

“We are proud of Dr. Walder and grateful for her work, energy and service to our Titans,” Lowery said.

In her 15th year in education, Walder is in her eighth year as an elementary principal and in her fifth year with the Tea Area district. Becoming a principal, she felt like it combined two of her loves - working with students and policy and advocacy.

She has always loved school. Her parents always supported education and education was a priority in her family.

“I started out just loving school and I never wanted to leave,” Walder said. “It only seemed natural to move into the educational field.”

She holds undergraduate degrees in history and political science, which she said has helped her as a principal to advocate and understand the governmental processes that impact what they do every day.

As a principal, she wants her elementary to be a place that everybody wants to come and knows that they will be challenged by each other. They hold each other accountable and are going to continue to do so whether it is students or staff members.

In her time at Legacy, they went from 700 students in kindergarten through fourth grade to about 530 students today in grades junior kindergarten through fifth grade thanks to building Venture Elementary. She noted that Legacy is unique because it has gone through multiple construction projects and changes.

Besides the building itself, Legacy Elementary also recognizes GOLD Titans, which means they are good citizens who are on task leaders that display respect each day. The staff promotes positivity and hold monthly assemblies that are always a lot of fun.

“Dr. Walder has high expectations for all Titans at Legacy Elementary School. She starts by holding herself to high expectations,” Lowery said. “In addition to her leadership at Legacy, Dr. Walder has provided mentoring support for elementary principals across the South Dakota elementary organization. She serves on various service and appointed committees. Most notably, she is the chair of the School Administrator’s Ethics board. She has invested a tremendous amount of time in the study and review of the proposed social studies standards.”

Walder appreciates the support the community provides to the school and the district.

“Our incredibly supportive community and school board are topnotch and I could not be more thankful for the administrative team and the teachers I get to work with every day. They challenge me to be better,” Walder said.

Walder loves school and loves coming to school every day.

“I just love school. I really do. It’s my happy place and it is where I enjoy being,” Walder said. “When I first started as a principal and my daughter was young, she would say, ‘why does Dad have to go to work and you just get to go to school?’ It makes so much sense. I love school. I don’t call it work.”


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