For Beachside Elementary Principal Leigh Prokop, education is about opportunities.
Education is the key to giving students the ability to choose their path, she said.
"There's that old adage that goes, 'Educators are not trained, they're born,'" Prokop said. "... I just feel a passion for helping students and doing what's best for them every day."
Prokop has worked in education for 20 years, spending the last two years as principal of Coronado Beach Elementary in New Smyrna Beach. Now the new principal at Beachside, Prokop said she's looking forward to the school year.
The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with Prokop about what it's like being a principal and her goals for the newly opened school.
How are you liking Beachside Elementary?
I am loving Beachside. Obviously the school is absolutely gorgeous, right? They just did an incredible job with it. I was fortunate and got to experience a rebuild when I was the assistant principal at Chisholm [Elementary], and so coming here, it's just really wonderful to see the work that they've done and the quality in every single detail around the campus from the furniture selection to the murals that they have up everywhere.
Are you originally from this area?
I'm not. I grew up in Mount Dora, and then ended up over in Volusia County. I live down in New Smyrna Beach, but I'm a firm believer in principals being a part of the community and investing in the community, and although I don't live up here, I very much so am excited about this community and the local businesses and newspapers and all of that. Everyone's just been absolutely phenomenal. It's a gem of a school and a gem of community.
What are you most excited about for the upcoming school year?
We've onboarded about 20 new staff members and all of our new kids coming in, and I am just excited to see where we can take this. We have a number of new procedures and initiatives in place, and I really think Beachside can be the very best school in Volusia County — I really do. The potential here in the level of professionalism and expertise that we are seeing in our classrooms, combined with some new teachers we have coming in straight out of college and that new energy, I'm just excited about getting in there with them, doing the hard work and meeting the kids and families and seeing where we can take this.
What's your favorite thing about being a principal?
Oh my goodness — the kids. Hanging out with the kids every day.
Did you ever see yourself as a principal?
No, not really. I didn't. I thought I would be in the classroom forever, and then opportunities presented themselves, and as I moved into administration, I realized that I had the ability to impact more, and that was an exciting thing for me.
I love working with teachers. I love serving teachers. I feel myself very much as a servant leader, and so I strive every single day to be serving the teachers, serving the parents, serving the community, and most of all, serving the students.
We know it's a difficult time to be a teacher, so where do you see your role as a principal to support them?
I see my role as providing them the tools they need to be successful and working to remove barriers that are in front of them. People don't go into education for the paychecks. They go into education because they really care about kids, and they believe in the power of education.
I see very much so my role as making sure they have everything they need to find that success in the classroom, and if there's something that's stopping them from finding that success, working to remove that.
Any words you live by?
I tell my daughter, "Can't stop, won't stop" — like, we're not going to quit.
[Our] last name is Prokop, so obviously, "Prokops never quit." I guess that's something that I will say about myself that, when we come up against hard things, we're not going to give up.
And we might fail a couple of times along the way, but failure isn't about how many times you don't succeed, it's about never ever giving up.