Kristen Campbell, superintendent, East Penn School District

1. What is the biggest lesson you have learned or obstacle you have overcome?

K: I think professionally I’m working through the greatest obstacle right now, and I say that in terms of education in general, but working through the pandemic certainly is an incredible obstacle. In particular, that obstacle has been: ‘How do you appropriately attend to the health and safety of staff and students while also recognizing the tremendous priority it is to provide education to our students in the community?’ When schools were closed, it hit home for all of us just how valuable instruction and relationships between teachers and students can be. Our challenge this year has been to develop multiple instructional modes. The community is on various points on a continuum with comfort level regarding in-person instruction.

Working through the pandemic has reemphasized for me the importance of truly understanding the unique needs of the school community where you work. It has also re-emphasized the importance of relationships built on open, honest, transparent communication and trust and relying on new ways to connect with students and families. We, as the adults in the community, have a responsibility to be positive role models for our kids. I feel like now more than ever, our kids need us and they’re watching how we respond to those obstacles.

2. What are you most proud of in your career?

K: This is my 26th year as an educator in the East Penn School District. I started out as a teacher at the elementary level, became assistant principal at a middle school, then elementary principal, central office administrator and am now so fortunate to have continued my career in a leadership role. One of the pieces I’m most proud of is the relationships I’ve fostered with our school community. Having worked in various capacities in the organization, I’ve gotten to know really well, and establish positive relationships with, many different people. It’s those relationships that I continue to go back to that almost serve as the bedrock or foundation of my ability to have success as a leader.

3. What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?

K: I believed that I had to be the person who was going to solve all problems. As you can appreciate, as you mature as a leader, as you mature as a person, you quickly realize that leadership is not about being the individual who has all the answers or solves all the problems, but leadership is much more about fostering the conditions that are going to bring together the right groups of people.

Something else I wish I had known that is maybe more personal than professional, but dips into both worlds: enjoy the moment. I was always driven professionally. I enjoyed what I was doing, but had the drive to move into leadership. In reflecting now, my time as a classroom teacher held some of the most enjoyable, rewarding moments in my career. You never get that same level of a relationship as you do when you’re a classroom teacher working with a group of students. It’s important to have goals. It’s important to have vision and always be moving forward. But I think it’s also important to take the time and enjoy the moment.

4. What inspires you? Do you have a mantra, favorite quote or specific role model?

K: I’m inspired and motivated to solve problems, to be part of the collaborative problem-solving group and have the ability to leave a situation in a place that’s far better than it originally was. Education is very people centered; it’s very problem or challenge based. And the fact that I can be in a role where every day, and sometimes every minute, there is a new challenge or a new problem that presents itself, and the fact that no two days are ever alike, that really does keep me inspired. The work itself, of being a leader in education, is just intrinsically very motivating to me.

5. How do you give back or stay engaged in the community?

K: In addition to being an educator here, I live in Lower Macungie and like to stay involved. Participation and visibility at a wide range of school and district events is certainly very important. In addition, being part of the East Penn Education Foundation and involved with the East Penn Chamber has been an opportunity to forge relationships and partnerships with the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley. It helps establish positive connections with local leaders too of the five municipalities that feed into East Penn School District. Ultimately, we all work together to serve the community, each in different ways. As a parent, I have two school-aged children who are also very involved in community youth activities, so that’s a way for me to combine roles of being a leader in a school community and being a parent and having an understanding of all aspects of the district.

6. How do you unwind?

K: Being a parent of a teenager and an elementary-aged student continually reminds me of the importance of just being present in the moment with them. Spending time, whether it’s at an activity or on the weekends with them, it’s important that we are all able to be very present and enjoy those opportunities. To personally unwind and disconnect, I really do enjoy being outdoors. Running and physical activity has so many social-emotional benefits. I love to hit the beach for summer vacation and enjoy time with family. Also, reading, because I know that I sort of reinvigorate myself by having some alone downtime because my job is very social and I spend a lot of time collaborating with other people.