Vaughn Elementary Welcomes New Principal

Born and raised in Tacoma, Abbie Barabe has years of experience as an administrator and principal.

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Vaughn Elementary School has a new principal, Abbie Barabe (pronounced “bear-a-bee”), with an extensive background in the field of elementary education.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Washington State University, Barabe taught a range of elementary school grades, later receiving her administrator credentials at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, where she was born and raised.

In the Bethel School District, Barabe served students as a teacher, an associate administrator, and a program specialist. At Manitou Park Elementary in Tacoma, Barabe spent six years as building administrator and three as principal.

“Manitou Park probably taught me everything I needed to be successful here at Vaughn,” Barabe said. “It taught me how to become a part of a community and how to work with the community.”

Barabe said when she applied for the Vaughn Elementary position, the close-knit, friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the Key Peninsula appealed to her and her family.

“I have experience with all different children, children with special services, gifted children, students who didn’t have breakfast in the morning, and children who had everything and more,” Barabe said. “You can’t just give kids academics; you have to meet their needs. Working with the whole child, we know that students need academic support but they also need social-emotional support.”

Barabe’s experiences have given her a strong foundation and belief in the “whole child” approach, which goes beyond academic achievement with a focus on social and emotional learning and support.

“I believe the hardest part for our students has been the lack of social interactions because that’s how children thrive,” she said. “As we move into remote learning and teaching happens online, my hope, my vision, is that we are providing students with self-regulation tools, social and emotional tools, so that they can be successful. So that they learn grit and tenacity, and that even at home when a problem is put in front of them, and it is hard, that they are going to continue to try and not give up.”

Barabe faces many unique challenges in the upcoming school year, including getting to know her new school, students and families mid-pandemic.

“Being outgoing is a strength that I’m going to bring to this. I love what I do and I want people to know,” she said. “One of the things I’m struggling with is that the community doesn’t know me. I think one of the foundations of education and teaching is relationships first. No child will ever trust me until they have a relationship with me and they know that I mean what I say, and right now that is a barrier.”

Although Barabe is optimistic about plans for the fall and her ability to successfully build relationships from the ground up in a primarily virtual environment, she admits, “It’s not perfect.”

The school is preparing a list of students who disengaged last spring and Barabe plans to contact each of those families and offer support. She has also put together a school supply wish list to help kids succeed with online learning and has asked the community and local community resources to help.

“For families who need to spend their hard-earned money on basic needs, I don’t want them to worry about these materials,” she said, “but I want to make sure they have them.”

“Last year when we went into remote learning, it happened in every district, it happened overnight and nobody was prepared. No teacher, no administrator could tell you what our next steps were,” Barabe said. “So, what we’re doing as a school now is we’re building that trust again. I really want the community and the families to feel like I’m here and I’m open. Even though I can’t open my door, I can open my computer.”

Barabe plans to do ongoing outreach through Zoom, both in small groups and one-on-one. Vaughn families will also receive a weekly phone call relaying updates and important information.

“I want to encourage people to reach out. Please, come find me and talk to me and tell me what I’m missing, because it’s a large community with a lot of great things and I don’t see it all yet. Don’t hesitate to tell me. I’m a good listener and I’m proactive and I’ll get out there,” Barabe said. “I already feel the excitement to watch our students grow and to meet high expectations.”

Principal Barabe can be reached at barabea@psd401.net.