Sandy Rusher loves Derby parks, but she steers clear of High Park. Why? The geese.
Rusher is terrified of birds: geese, chickens, crows, you name it. All fowl are equally foul to her. It runs in her family.
“My grandma scared my mom, and my mom scared me,” Rusher said. “[Birds] can sing in a tree, but I don’t want them anywhere near me.”
Looking back now, Rusher realized she was an impressionable child influenced by the adults close to her. Kids learn things from the adults around them, she realized.
“If you’re walking at the zoo or at the park and you’re with an adult who shudders in fear, then you learn that same fear,” Rusher said.
Now, two decades into a career in education, Rusher is leaving an impression on kids, but that impression isn’t frightening – it’s formative.
Rusher, who was Park Hill Elementary’s principal from 2013 to 2020, will be Stone Creek Elementary’s first principal when it opens this fall.
She started her career teaching and then moved up to administration, but has remained committed to making time for “the kiddos.”
“My goal is to spend time in the classroom working with kids and watching them kind of get that spark and run with an idea,” Rusher said. “I love to watch that change from a 5-year-old who tells you, ‘I don’t know how to read,’ and who by the end of kindergarten could come to my office and read a book. It’s an absolute joy.”
Rusher was born in Ulysses, Kan., and grew up in Johnson City, which is about 10 miles from Colorado and 20 miles from Oklahoma. The town’s population was 1,495 as of the 2010 census. The closest McDonald’s was 22 miles away.
“It’s a small, small, little town,” Rusher said.
Her family lived on a farm and raised crops. The farm life was her dad’s livelihood.
Her mom worked as an activities director at an area nursing home.
“I think that led me to organizing, leading groups, and creating activities and lessons, because that’s what I saw my mom doing,” Rusher said. “She was keeping that older generation’s minds sharp. I think that’s where my love of teaching and leading others developed from.”
Rusher lived in Johnson City through high school, where she graduated with 31 other kids. After high school, she started college at Fort Hays State University, but ended up finishing her elementary education undergrad at Wichita State University. She switched schools because her boyfriend, Aaron, had moved to Wichita. She and Aaron kept things long distance for a while, and then Rusher transferred to WSU. Now she and Aaron are married and have two teenage boys.
Rusher started teaching first grade at Oaklawn Elementary in 2001, then later became a reading specialist. After going back to teaching first grade for a while, she became a Success for All facilitator.
Rusher started pursuing a master’s degree at Baker University during her time at Oaklawn, and graduated in 2005 with a master’s of science in building leadership. A few years later, Rusher started her first principal job.
From 2008 to 2013, Rusher was principal at Leonard C. Seal Elementary in Douglass. It was her first foray into the world of administration. She loved it from the jump.
“I just love working with adults,” Rusher said. “I love looking at progress, evaluating student growth, and seeing the collaboration that happens. I feel like I’m a real people person and a good listener, so the position kind of fits my strengths.”
She started working at Park Hill in 2013, and remained there through this year. Now she’s making her biggest jump: taking on the role of Stone Creek Elementary’s first principal.
And Rusher is not just the new school’s principal. She was instrumental in designing it.
That experience has been the highlight of her career thus far, she said.
“I just can't imagine many other opportunities where an individual is able to experience teaching and education for a number of years, think ‘If I designed a building, I would or wouldn't do this,’ and then have the opportunity to travel to nearby states, come back and put those ideas on paper, and give them to an architect to make it real,” Rusher said. “It’s been phenomenal and stressful, at times, not wanting to make the wrong decisions and wanting to make sure the design works as planned.”
“I am so proud of this building.”
Rusher has high aspirations for the new school. And thankfully for her, the school’s mascot aims for the sky without featuring a beak or feather. They're called the Stone Creek Jets.