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Naval Avenue ‘Lighthouse’ gets a new keeper

Linda Sullivan-Dudzic and John Welsh are looking forward to the future as the district’s oldest school starts a new phase of its life. Naval Avenue Elementary becomes the Early Learning Center this fall, showcasing the district’s approach to early learning. - Photo by James Mange
Linda Sullivan-Dudzic and John Welsh are looking forward to the future as the district’s oldest school starts a new phase of its life. Naval Avenue Elementary becomes the Early Learning Center this fall, showcasing the district’s approach to early learning.
— image credit: Photo by James Mange

Along with the monumental changes transforming Naval Avenue Elementary School into the Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, the school is also getting a new principal. John Welsh will be running the showcase school after serving as a secondary administrator with the Bremerton School District for the past eight years. The change in command was made to accommodate the request by former principal, Gretchen Peters, to move to less than full-time status in order to spend more time with her family, yet still maintain the momentum already rolling at Naval Avenue.

“We’re taking all that Bremerton is known for all over the nation, and highlighting it here at Naval,” said Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, the director of special programs for the district. “We’ve never had a spot where we could showcase it all before.”

Sullivan-Dudzic will take a more active role in the new set-up at Naval Avenue, with the school changing from a traditional kindergarten through fifth grade facility, to a preschool through third grade focus center, including the inaugural Spanish immersion kindergarten class.

“We chose John because he has an extensive special education background,” Sullivan-Dudzic said. “I’ve heard John say for many years, ‘If I can only reach them sooner.’”

Now Welsh has the chance to reach students sooner, and the working theory is special education services will be more focused in the future as well, since not as many students will need assistance and remedial education.

“We want to make sure the kids leave here with those skills they need to have,” Welsh said. “The interventions that are done here make a tremendous impact down the line.”

Welsh worked for 16 years as a special education teacher, then spent four years as an assistant principal at Bremerton Junior High, and transitioned to another four years as an assistant principal at Mountain View Middle School.

Peters will slide into an administrative position at Mountain View, working on an eight-tenths schedule.

The district has hauled in some major awards recently for its emphasis on early learning, including a prestigious Magna Award from the American School Board Journal. This fall the district will become the only Kindergarten Lighthouse District in the state, receiving funding from the state to assist other schools in creating their own all-day kindergarten programs.

The Naval Avenue Early Learning Center scored major points on its own, earning a 2007 Title I Improvement Award from the state and will receive $4,200 to be used to support the continuing effort to improve student achievement. Part of the district’s PEP grant funding will be used to develop a family fitness center on the lawn along Naval Avenue. Fitness stations and a track are possibilities that will be looked at, and the city of Bremerton has offered the help of city planners to assist with the development this October.

The fitness center is part of the move to make the whole school more family friendly.

“We want parents to feel welcome here,” Welsh said. “We don’t want them to think of this as a place where they drop their kids off and then leave.”

As part of that push, the PTA will now include the pre-school families, even though the Montessori program isn’t a program of the district. The one district special education pre-school teacher who is on staff will further the public-private partnership, working with the Head Start teachers.

To help families feel more comfortable with the new principal, the first Meet the Principal Day has been scheduled for Aug. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the school. Welsh will meet with the staff for the first time Aug. 6.

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