For 12 years, Shelli Otten has served as principal of Cherry Creek Elementary School. During that time, she has hired teachers, launched learning initiatives and grappled with budget cuts. However, Otten never dreamed that she would spend the last three months of her career presiding over a school with empty classrooms.
“I feel some regret for leaving at this time, even though my retirement had been planned earlier,” she says. “There were a lot of special activities that we were not able to do this year.” The COVID-19 pandemic closed Michigan schools on March 13 which meant traditional end-of-the-year activities were cancelled. Otten notes, “I wish we could have done more and celebrated our fifth graders, too.”
However, she is grateful for her time serving area students and families at Cherry Creek Elementary School and will forever treasure the memories she made there.
Teacher Prior to Becoming Principal
Otten has been an educator for decades. She taught kindergarten, 1st grade and 4th grade at schools in Virginia and Massachusetts as well as at Kentwood Public Schools. Before coming to Lowell, she served as a principal for 10 years with Grand Rapids Public Schools.
For personal and professional reasons, Otten applied for the position of principal of Cherry Creek Elementary School. She grew up attending Cedar Springs Public Schools and also taught at rural communities in Massachusetts.
“I wanted to again be a part of a smaller community and work with families and on community and school projects,” Otten says. While Lowell would take Otten back to her rural roots, it also provided an opportunity for the educator to stretch herself professionally. That’s because Cherry Creek is a larger school than where she was previously employed.
The elementary school proved to be a good fit for Otten, according to Greg Pratt, superintendent for Lowell Area Schools. “She’s been phenomenal,” he says. “She’ll be missed.”
Launching Initiatives for Student Success
When asked about her biggest accomplishments at Cherry Creek, Otten points to two initiatives: a positive behavior intervention and support system and the implementation of longer literacy blocks.
The behavior intervention program provides clear parameters for what is acceptable at school. “This is based on the idea that in order to do their best, students need to be taught behavior expectations,” Otten says. Students receive recognition for good choices. This reinforces their positive behavior and can also result in motivating better behavior among classmates.
Meanwhile, the longer literacy blocks helped align reading institution across all grades. They allow for a greater level of teacher collaboration while also providing students more choice in their reading selections.
“Both the behavior and literacy initiatives are research driven and have already shown some positive data results,” Otten says.
12 Years of Happy Memories
After more than a decade guiding instruction at Cherry Creek Elementary School, Otten has racked up numerous memories. Among her favorite parts of the day are morning and afternoon bus duties. It’s her chance to start and end the day with a positive interactions with students.
Plus, she says it has been rewarding to see students develop a love of learning. “Watching students get so engrossed reading a book that they don’t even look up when you go by,” she explains. “Working and learning with staff to plan instruction and student activities that are meaningful — these things have been highlights.”
Otten gives credit to the teachers and staff at Cherry Creek for their tireless support of students. Throughout the years, the principal has helped hire 14 teachers in the school and says it has been exciting to work and learn with them as well as alongside existing teachers.
“I have a lot of gratitude for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had,” Otten says. As she looks forward to the next chapter of life, she says she will remember with fondness the students, families and staff who have been a daily part of her life for the last 12 years.