Vicki Prendergast is set to retire. Again.
The Mount Pleasant School District superintendent and school principal recently announced she will step down from both of her roles at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Prendergast retired as principal of Whitson Elementary School in White Salmon, Washington, after the 2013-14 school year, but accepted the Mount Pleasant positions shortly thereafter. At the time, she said she’d work for two or three more years. She ended up staying for six.
“I stayed longer because it really is a wonderful school with great staff and community members,” she said. “I’ll really miss the people because they are really great. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot of different kinds of things while I’ve been here.”
Prendergast spent 13 years in White Salmon. Before that, she worked for 11 years at Vancouver-based Educational Services District 112 (ESD 112) as its director for early childhood programming.
Mount Pleasant School District, which represents more than 60 K-8 students who attend the Mount Pleasant School about 7 miles west of downtown Washougal in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, will begin its search for a new superintendent and principal later this month. District leaders hope to make a selection before the end of the 2019-20 school year.
“Vicki has been a truly inspirational leader and has helped our school community grow in many positive directions,” said Carol Dinnel, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Mount Pleasant School. “She has led with insight and compassion and has been a mentor that we respect very much.”
Prendergast “has been a tremendous asset to our school district,” according to Karl Kanthak, president of the Mount Pleasant school board.
“Vicki has been a mentor to our teachers, a steady source of continuity for the students and parents and very easy to work with from the board’s perspective,” Kanthak said.
During Prendergast’s tenure at Mount Pleasant, the school has prioritized STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities.
The school has a garden program and indoor, observational beehive, both funded by a grant from the Whole Kids Foundation. With the assistance of Skamania County’s noxious weed board, students have planted native vegetation around a nearby pond, which teachers use for educational opportunities on a regular basis.
Students have raised and released salmon at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery with the assistance of U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff members. They also have done projects in the school’s garden and greenhouse, designing raised beds and constructing an irrigation system.
The school has worked with ESD 112 and the Pacific Education Institute to augment STEM training.
“One thing that became clear was the teachers really wanted this to be a STEM-focused school, which was the idea that I came in here with,” Prendergast said. “I thought the location and the environment really created that opportunity, so it was just something that we were able to run with. The teachers really enjoy hands-on learning. They’re real supportive of that.”
She added that the STEM curriculum has grown throughout her tenure thanks to the dedication of the school’s staff members.
“I think having a building focus around that has really brought people together on the same page and have a common bond for collaboration,” Prendergast said.
Mount Pleasant School faces a few unique challenges. Located on a hill near the entrance to the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Pleasant School is home to 68 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. After eighth grade, most of Mount Pleasant’s students attend high school in either Washougal or Stevenson.
The district’s enrollment is capped due to the nearby presence of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, but district leaders have been aggressive in their efforts to find revenue income sources. Last spring, for example, the district was awarded a Small Rural District Modernization Grant from Washington’s legislature for $360,000. The money will be used for replacements for the school’s roof, windows, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
“We’re a small geographical area, and we’re completely surrounded by the Washougal School District. It’s a little bit unique to other school districts,” Prendergast said.
Prendergast believes she is leaving the district in good shape. Last summer, the school brought in a new portable building, which has rooms for two classrooms and a library.
“We need to have space for highly capable and special education (students) and lab pullouts,” Prendergast said. “We never had a dedicated library space before. The library was shared with the music and art room.”
Prendergast and her husband, John, live in Skamania County. The couple plans to travel to Ireland and Norway this summer, and hopes to tour Canada’s national parks in the future. Prendergast is looking forward to spending more time with her three children and six grandchildren, and volunteering with the Skamania County’s Friends of the Library program.
“A lot of things have been set on hold because of my passion,” she said, “so now it’s time for me to let John have some of the opportunities that I told him we’d have six years ago.”