Nilsen brings counseling background to LHS admin

Michelle Nilsen brings counseling background to LHS admin
Posted on 08/30/2016
Michelle Nilsen sees shifting from school counselor into high school administration as a natural flow. “Our job (as a counselor) encompasses so much of the work driving student behavior and motivating them,” she says. “For me it is a natural shift to work toward empowering teachers and helping kids reach their potential.”

Now she will have that opportunity as the new assistant principal at Lynden High School.

Nilsen, a Nooksack Valley High School graduate, has lived in Lynden the past 13 years, serving as a counselor in the Bellingham School District for the last 12 years. Before that, she worked in human resources for Microsoft, with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in counseling psychology as part of her education history.

It was during her role as a counselor in Bellingham that Nilsen decided she wanted to make a move into administrative work, earning her certificate from Western Washington University and then finding the Lynden opening immediately after. “In any school I’ve been in, I’ve been tapped as a school leader,” she says. “I was looking to go into administration and was blessed and lucky that Lynden opened at the time I was graduating. It all came together in a real spectacular way.”

And staying in the high school was important too. “I think I love teenagers,” she says. “I love how they are able to make things happen and envision what they want for themselves and their school and can articulate that and brainstorm.”

As the assistant principal at LHS under Ian Freeman—who Nilsen calls “fantastic to work with”—she sees her main role as supporting teachers and helping students meet their potential, both behaviorally and academically. “I see my role as supporting kids to see and help define who they are and who they want to be in the future,” she says.

“Michelle comes with a variety of experiences and knowledge from her other positions, but what makes her most valuable is her care for each individual student,” Freeman says. “School hasn’t even started and she knows many of the students by name and is already thinking of ways to give them the best education possible.”

Her counseling training, she says, gives her the benefit of perspective. Nilsen says she sees the bigger picture of a student and what they bring to the school every day. “I think that when I look at kids, whether in discipline or leadership or education, I see the whole child because that is how I was trained to look at kids,” she says. “I don’t necessarily just see them as a student in the classroom and that is a huge benefit.”

Working at Lynden—her two children attend Fisher Elementary School, with her daughter entering fifth grade and her son second grade—does provide a challenge, but in a good way. Nilsen says trying to come into a good school like Lynden and help take it to the next level provides a different level of effort than fixing something obviously broken. “It is easy to go into a school that needs help and make it good, but good to great is a more challenging opportunity,” she says. “I like that. I love how our community supports the schools and how kids are involved in athletics and activities and have opportunities to figure out who they are.”

Early in the process, Nilsen has already met with the ASB officers to learn about their vision for the year. Those early conversations have her excited about what’s coming this year, a school year that will allow Nilsen to bring a fresh perspective to Lynden High School.

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