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Nurse facilitator honored as Leader to Learn From | VIDEO

Mary Newell - Courtesy photo
Mary Newell
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For the Reporter

Mary Newell, Kent School District's nurse facilitator, is among 15 forward-thinking, district-level leaders to be recognized by Education Week in its second annual Leaders To Learn From report.

Newell is among select leaders who seized on good ideas and executed them well in their school systems, the report said.

The goal of the recognition is for educators and future leaders around the country to learn from these leaders' stories, and to inspire innovative and forward thinking in their districts.

"It's an honor to be recognized for the work I do because kids are my passion, and I really want them to succeed and lead a healthy life," Newell said.

Newell was selected from more than 900 people nominated by readers, members of the Education Writers Association, and state and national education groups.

"Dr. Newell works tirelessly to educate Kent School District staff about the health needs of our diverse student population, and how to use this knowledge to further our goal of high student achievement," said Linda Del Giudice, chief accountability officer. "She deserves this award."

Newell oversees the district's 27 nursing staff and its student health services. One of her most impactful projects was to develop an in-school health clinic at Kent Phoenix Academy (KPA), one of the district's "choice schools," which serves a high-poverty student population. At the inception of KPA, the district determined 15 dropout risk factors for students, and Newell's health program, which was eventually named the Teen Health Center, addressed 13 of those factors.

"Dr. Newell is a proactive thinker when it comes to our students," said Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas. "She makes the important connection between a student's health and a student's academic success and acts on it."

Newell tells Education Week that she believes school staff have a special insight into students' health needs because of their consistent daily interaction with the students. Kent School District nurses are trained to take advantage of that perspective.

Staff at KPA have been able to address conditions that threaten to keep students out of the classroom. For example, they have referred students to optometrists for glasses, identified anxiety disorders, helped students struggling with suicidal thoughts devise safety plans, and enabled students to discuss their health situations with their parents, which can be an intimidating task.

In addition to their inclusion in the special report, the leaders have been invited to share their "lessons learned" at a forum in Washington, D.C., on April 1.

Watch a video produced by Education Week about Newell's work.

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