To hear Katie Pennington tell it, her ears pricked up and her eyes danced when, at a meeting of West Michigan principals in January, Holland High School Principal Deb Feenstra announced her intention to retire from public education.
“I’ve gotten to know Deb over the past few years and I’ve always wanted what she had,” Pennington said. “She always spoke so highly of her staff. It was obvious that she was both challenged and supported. She had the only [public] high school in a great community with a rich heritage.
“So, when Deb told the group, ‘If you know a principal who might be interested in working at Holland High…’ I didn’t have to think too hard,” Pennington added, with a chuckle. “ I thought, ‘Yes, I believe I do know someone!’ Basically, I couldn’t apply fast enough.”
Pennington, 40, replaced Feenstra on July 1 as Holland High’s principal after what Pennington described as a “really nice overlapping job shadow experience.”
Beginning in April, Pennington began spending two days a week in Holland with Feenstra, and working the remaining three work days at Kenowa Hills High School, where she served as principal for five years.
Previous to that, she had been principal at Wyoming Rogers High School for three years and an assistant principal at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School for two years.
Those positions required longish commutes from Pennington’s home in Zeeland, where her husband, Derek, is a social studies teacher and head football coach at Zeeland East High School.
“Working closer to my home is a bonus,” said Pennington, who has a 10-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. “But I would have applied for Deb’s position no matter where it was based on how content and happy with her work I knew her to be.”
Pennington said she resolved to become a high school teacher as a teen-ager because her own teachers at Holt High School were so amazing.
She was barely 21 when she graduated from the University of Michigan with a history major, French minor, and a teaching certificate. For the next nine years she taught high school in Kalamazoo and completed an advanced degree in education leadership at Western Michigan University.
Pennington said she sees several things at Holland High to be excited about. To name a few, there’s the exemplary fine and performing arts programs, the Early College option, and the all-out cross-disciplinary approach to improving reading and writing, which dovetails with West Michigan’s Reading Now Network.
“I think we can accomplish a lot by keeping it simple and not allowing ourselves to get distracted by every new thing that come along,” Pennington said. “If we choose a few goals, provide training about how to achieve them, and give them time to work, we will accomplish a lot.”