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Principal Connecting With Students, Families Over Two Decades

Debra Archie-Wilkerson

October 21, 2021 -- It is often said that relationship building is a critical component of successful learning. These words ring true at Siebert Elementary School, where Principal Debra Archie-Wilkerson has been building relationships for more than two decades.

While she has been with the District for 28 years, Archie-Wilkerson has dedicated the past 22 to Siebert’s students, families, and staff. She credits her length of time here as one of her many tools in building lasting relationships.

“Some of my students now are the children of my first students here as principal,” Archie-Wilkerson said. “We have second generations coming through, staff members with children here, and even my kids came here. All this has really helped to build that family atmosphere.”

The proud principal recalled a memorable family whose youngest child recently finished 5th grade at Siebert. The native Spanish-speaking family came to the school when the oldest child, Jesús, was beginning kindergarten. Archie-Wilkerson described the joy of witnessing the tenacious student work hard to learn English and make so much progress during his time here. He graduated high school, enrolled at Columbus State Community College, and is now serving in the military.

Archie-Wilkerson said she still keeps in touch with Jesús’ mother and the family had a significant impact on her decision to implement conversational Spanish classes for her staff. 

“I knew we needed to do better,” she explained. “Jesús’ mother was always so helpful and willing to translate for our other Spanish-speaking families, but we needed to do our part. I kept asking myself, ‘How can we better support these families?’”

Archie-Wilkerson introduced the program last year, in which staff participated in conversational Spanish classes two hours per week for ten weeks. She said this helped tremendously in communicating with and building relationships with the school’s Spanish-speaking families. 

“The most important decisions I make as a school leader center around support. I need to ensure my students receive all the support they need in all aspects of their lives,” Archie-Wilkerson said. “And part of that is filling my teachers’ buckets, so they have the tools to help students succeed.”

When asked what motivates her professionally and personally, Archie-Wilkerson’s answer is the same for both - her babies.

“My students are my babies, and I take them home with me every day,” she said with a smile. “I’m an empty nester now, so I have even more time to really invest in these kids, even outside of the school and in some of their other activities. They are the reason I do what I do.”