Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Long-time Walla Walla principal making the transition back to the classroom
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the July 31, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
Michele Acock makes the transition from principal to kindergarten teacher this coming school year in Walla Walla. (IR photo courtesy of Assumption School, Walla Walla)
At the conclusion of the ‘07-’08 school year, Michele Acock, principal at Walla Walla’s Assumption School, retired from the position she had held for 17 years.
More accurately, prior to taking on the principal’s role, she had taught kindergarten at Assumption, so all told, she served the Assumption community for 26 years. Which doesn’t count the years she attended the school as a student herself, before going on to DeSales High School.
As she thought back on her tenure as principal, there were a number of memorable moments, but two in particular stood out.
“The first one was the year the School Board decided to re-establish uniforms for the students. Approximately 75 percent of the families wanted uniforms and 25 percent who were opposed. It was a tedious process and one I tackled as a very young principal.” Many people disagreed with the Board’s decision, she said, but her own reasoning was based on her concern for what she called “the inequity among students that was beginning to rear its ugly head.”
When the new school year began with uniforms required, on the first day of school, one little girl who hadn’t had nice school clothes in previous years approached her and, twirling in her new uniform skirt, said, “See, Mrs. Acock, I’m just like everybody now!”
“I realized at that point that all the emotional comments, discussions and ‘parking lot meetings’ that were directed at me were worth everything for that one child to feel just like everybody else,” she said. The students continue to wear uniforms to this day.
The second highlight took place 10 years ago as she was working through the process of building a new preschool-primary building.
Although there was some grant money to help with the cost, “it seemed like at every corner there were more hoops and hurdles to jump over,” many of them financial in nature. “We were short approximately $35,000 due to the city making us bring a sewer line up the street that we didn’t know we were responsible for. I questioned how we would ever get all the funds to pay for this unfinished building that we desperately needed by the fall.”
No announcement had been made to the wider community about this problem, but one day she had a visit from a Walla Walla Catholic schools benefactor.
“She came to school unannounced,” said Acock. “She wanted to let me know that she and her husband had decided to give the school some money, and she wanted it to help with the new building” – some $40,000, to be used for the new building.
“I was completely humbled by the Lord’s presence, power, and unending love,” Acock said, “especially since I was a ‘doubting Thomas’ regarding the completion of the building.”
After 17 years as principal, Acock said that she “spent a lot of time praying and thinking” about her future.
“I had explored the possibility of working with the local colleges as a student teacher supervisor,” she said, “but nothing really came to light. My kindergarten teacher had let me know after Thanksgiving that she was resigning her position, as she was having another child and would be moving away. That was my message from God. I could go back into the classroom and teach my favorite class, kindergarten,” this fall
“I am so excited to go back into the classroom and teach,” she said happily. “I have always loved children, but my heart has a soft spot for kindergartners.” With her two daughters still in school, the job shift will allow her to spend more time at their activities with her husband.
At a special event celebrating Acock’s “retirement,” the Home and School Association officers and the school children gave her a beautiful bouquet of roses, and all the children made cards for her. “The second to the last day of school,” she said, “there was an assembly for me and one of the moms in the school put together a DVD presentation for the kids about my life. But the most exciting thing about that day was that my sister, who lives in Southern California, had flown in and was actually sitting with the first graders. I didn’t know she was here and was speechless when I noticed her. It was a wonderful day!”
At the graduation ceremony for Walla Walla’s DeSales High School, the Walla Walla Catholic Schools gave Acock the Father Triesch Award, named for the late Father Norman Triesch who, as it turned out, “was one of my dad’s teachers when he was at St. Pat’s (High School, which closed in 1960),” Acock said. Her father, Jerry Anhorn, himself a former teacher and football coach at DeSales, also has received the award.
“I am so excited to move back into the classroom,” said Acock. “I love teaching and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I spent time subbing in the classrooms for the teachers. I am so excited to stay at Assumption, a place where I can still impart my Catholic Faith, beliefs and values to the kindergarten children.”