September was again the beginning of a new school year. At Forest Hill Public School (FHPS) on Doran Road in Midhurst, the new year brought with it a new
principal, Lisa Cooke.
“I’m very pleased, excited and thrilled to be here,” she says. “I’ve felt truly welcomed!” In addition to getting to know a new school and a new community, she’s had to deal too with disruptions caused by construction on
Doran Road and of course with the challenges, restrictions and stress caused by the Covid pandemic. She’s been impressed though by the cooperation of students, staff and the community. “Everybody’s working hard together.” By early October, the school had settled into a new normal.
Cooke intends to emphasize academics, but to balance this with concern for the mental and emotional wellbeing of students, while also promoting equity, inclusion and diversity. She also hopes that students, by the time they’re done at FHPS, will have a stronger sense of citizenship and a solid belief in themselves. She stresses that, “I like to empower people and develop leadership in others.”
Cooke grew up in both small town and big city Ontario - she’s originally from Wingham, but her family moved to Brampton when she was a teen. After finishing high school, she studied at the University of Waterloo, concentrating in math, biology and chemistry, and earning an Honours Bachelor of Science degree.
She then went to teachers’ college at the University of Western Ontario, graduating with a Bachelor of Education. Following this, she was hired by the Simcoe County District School Board in 1993, where she’s been ever since.
She began her career at Barrie North Collegiate, teaching math. This was followed by a period as a curriculum consultant, which involved teaching teachers how to implement assessment practices and math curriculum. It also involved doing work with Ministry of Education committees to revise the Ontario
curriculum. It was around this time too that Cooke, in mid-career, returned to school as a part-time student to earn a Master of Education degree at Nipissing University.
After that, Cooke became an elementary vice principal, serving as VP at three different schools in Baxter, Alcona and Barrie. She next advanced to the position of principal, first at Cookstown Central Public School and then at Mapleview Heights Elementary School in Barrie, before coming to FHPS.
Cooke is the mother of two teens and the stepmom of two 20-somethings. All were educated in Simcoe County public schools. She finds this background to be invaluable to her as a principal. “I have lived a lot of the experiences that families of elementary students are going through,” she explains, “and am happy to share my learnings with others.”
A principal’s tenure at a school is usually four to seven years. “This is likely my last school,” Cooke says, “because I’ll be able to retire in four years if I choose to.” “However I love my job,” she adds, “so I may stay longer.”
FHPS has classes from Kindergarten through Grade 8, in both the English language as well as French Immersion. With over 650 students and more than 50 staff members, it’s a large elementary school by Simcoe County standards.