Retiring Liberty Bell principal focused on ‘open door policy’
“You have to really love teenagers to be here,” said Deborah DeKalb, who’s retiring this month after 25 years at Liberty Bell High School — the last 14 as the school’s principal.
DeKalb started at the school in 1994 as a mental-health counselor working for Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare. Two years later, she was hired by the school district as school counselor, a position that combined emotional and crisis counseling with academic and career guidance.
Although being a principal added supervisory responsibilities such as evaluating teachers, DeKalb went out of her way to create formal — and informal — ways to be involved with students. She taught an advisory class, where she could check in with students, go over areas where they might need support, and help them pursue special interests.
“I’ve always had an open-door policy and aim to be super-visible in classrooms and at lunch break,” said DeKalb. “It’s all about not getting kids in trouble — they know someone is there, so they stay out of trouble. It’s about building relationships so that they trust you,” she said.
If there was trouble, DeKalb and the school counselor used an approach called restorative justice, where they held conferences that gave students — and their teachers or parents — a forum to discuss and resolve an issue.
“It’s like peeling back an onion to figure out what’s really going on,” said DeKalb. “They’re still learning. You need to give them the opportunity to make mistakes — and to learn from their mistakes.”
Legacy of educating
While the bulk of her career kept her firmly rooted in the world of teenagers, DeKalb taught preschool and young elementary students in the Montessori program at Little Star Montessori School for eight years before she started at Liberty Bell.
When DeKalb looks back on her time at the high school, graduation will always stand out. “It’s the culmination of what we do” — the energy invested in getting ready, the excitement of the ceremony, and the significance of moving on, she said.
DeKalb looks forward to not being overly scheduled, but she does have plans, including a walking tour of the Dolomites, part of the Italian Alps. She’ll also explore opportunities to travel through volunteer work.
DeKalb is staying in the valley. Four of her five kids — and her 12 grandchildren — are in the Northwest. And she plans to be in the school as a substitute teacher and mentor.
“This is not going to be easy for me, not being around these guys — the kids, the teachers,” said DeKalb. “I’ve been very blessed — I’ve always loved what I’ve done. It’s a huge transition. I will totally miss being here.”