New principals look ahead to new year

After one year, Aukamm Elementary School principal Alice Berard is the senior principal at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. This year, she’ll be joined by Dr. Sandra Whitaker at Wiesbaden High School, Dan Serfass at Wiesbaden Middle School and Dr. Tonya Laliberte at Hainerberg Elementary School.

Dr. Sandra Whitaker

Whitaker joined the WHS team in February 2017 to work on facility and forward planning for moving into the new high school this school year. When she came to Wiesbaden, the rooms of the new school were bare and fixtures were being installed. With the retirement of her predecessor, Whitaker will open the doors of WHS this year as its principal.

Whitaker said her favorite day each year is the first day of school and this year will be particularly exciting with the opening of the new WHS, the first 21st Century School to be built in Department of Defense Education Activity Europe.

“Every new school year holds possibility,” Whitaker said. “Everybody comes back wanting to make it the best year ever.”

Those possibilities will be fulfilled this year through the focus on collaboration and project-based learning, which faculty members have been pursuing over the past year.

“They’re going to work together, support each other, learn together, try together, and I think we’re going to see a lot of really interesting experiences for kids come out of that,” Whitaker said.

Everything Whitaker does in a day comes down to keeping kids safe and helping them learn, she said. Her favorite piece is watching each student shine in their chosen area, and WHS has many great ways for students to get hooked in and be engaged.

“My dream is that every kid would want to be here all day on a Saturday. Not that we’re going to offer something for every kid every Saturday – but if we said, ‘This is happening on Saturday. We need you here at 8 in the morning.’ They would be here at 7:45 willingly; excited. I want every kid to be that hooked in, connected to something that we’re doing here. And I think we have the right staff, community and facilities to make that happen,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker has worked in DoDEA since 2009 and has held administrative positions at schools in England and Belgium.

Dan Serfass

Serfass arrived in Wiesbaden on Aug. 1, and brought years’ worth of military and educational experience with him to his new role as principal at Wiesbaden Middle School. During a 20-year Naval career, Serfass worked with many Sailors fresh out of high school. The transition into education after the Navy was a natural fit, he said, in fact his first teaching position was as for Navy Junior ROTC.

“There’s nothing better than helping kids grow,” Serfass said. In his few weeks in the Wiesbaden community, Serfass said he has felt fortunate to be at an installation that is so welcoming and focused on working together on behalf of the mission, including supporting families.

“They are so family-focused and supportive; really a team effort here and that’s the environment I love to work in.”

For the new school year, Serfass said he looks forward to preparing to move to the new middle school and continue to implement the 21st Century School concepts. It is also important to reinforce a positive climate and school culture so kids want to be there and learn, Serfass said, adding that from everything he has seen so far, that is exactly how the middle school faculty operates.

“A large part of my job is student safety, both physical and emotional safety … to have them grow and achieve in that culture or that safe environment. That includes being able to take risks in school academically, not be afraid to ask questions and not be afraid to be wrong, and to try and make mistakes – those are they kind of things we want to incorporate into our instructional practices.”

Serfass has held numerous administrative positions including as the principal of two DoDEA Europe South District schools.

Dr. Tonya Laliberte

Laliberte also moved to Wiesbaden at the beginning of August, just in time to begin the new school year as principal of Hainerberg Elementary School. During the upcoming year, Laliberte said she looks forward to learning about the school and connecting with new families.

Coming with her family from Japan, Laliberte said she has experienced the challenges of transitioning to a new place with her children and realizes the importance of supporting military children.

“We have to be cognizant of how we welcome them in and make them feel at home,” Laliberte said. “If you don’t feel at home, it’s hard; it’s hard to acclimate in and integrate in.”

Laliberte said she wants to stress to parents the importance of being involved – read the newsletters and get involved with the Parent-Teacher Organization.

“It takes every single one of us,” she said, and “you’ll never get that time back.”

Laliberte has been with DoDEA since 2010 and most recently served as a middle school principal in Japan.

Alice Berard

Berard will kick off her second school year at Aukamm Elementary School on Aug. 28. With new colleagues, and as always, many new families, Berard said they are working hard as a group to ensure policies and procedures are consistent across the schools.

Berard started her time with DoDEA as a military dependent in Ramstein, Germany, where she attended first through fourth grade. Returning as a teacher, Berard has been with DoDEA for 23 years and has served in various roles at schools in Panama, Italy and Turkey.