Heatherlyn Wessel jokingly calls her journey to becoming principal at McAnnulty Elementary in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District somewhat of a “Cinderella story.”
It also took a lot of hard work.
“I am coming back home,” said Wessel, 35, who began her teaching career at McAnnulty.
She’s excited to return to the school where she spent much of her career, while continuing to work in the district she loves and calls home.
“It’s like I’ve come full circle,” she said.
Wessel, who worked for the last six years as assistant principal at W.R. Paynter Elementary, was named as the new principal at McAnnulty in June. She will earn $86,000 for 2018-19.
Wessel takes over after former McAnnulty Principal DJ Emanuelson resigned on May 9, effective June 30.
“Mrs. Wessel was the natural choice for the position of McAnnulty principal,” Superintendent Randal Lutz said in an email. “In the past six years, she has excelled as the assistant principal at Paynter Elementary School under the guidance of Mrs. (Tricia) Fusco. She has built a reputation on high expectations for students and staff while being caring and responsive to the needs of those in her care.”
After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s in elementary education, Wessel moved to Canonsburg and began working as a substitute teacher in districts across the South Hills, including Baldwin-Whitehall.
She got to know so many people in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and gained so much experience, she was brought on to teach the summer reading program at McAnnulty the following summer.
By the next school year, she was hired full time as a full-day kindergarten teacher at McAnnulty.
“My life has pretty much been at McAnnulty,” she said with a laugh.
During the five years she taught at McAnnulty, Wessel pursued her principal’s papers from California University of Pennsylvania. She even interned at McAnnulty for the certification.
Her goal with getting her principal’s certification was not to actually get a job as a principal — it was to learn more about what her bosses expected of her and how she could better herself.
But when an assistant principal job opened at Paynter Elementary, Wessel went for it.
Going from McAnnulty to Paynter, the only K-5 school in the district, was a big leap. Wessel said she “immediately fell in love with the kids,” but she always dreamed of returning to McAnnulty. When the opportunity arose this year, she took it.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” Wessel said.
Wessel becomes principal at McAnnulty as the school is experiencing a burst of growth. The kindergarten and first grade only building went from 368 students in 2017-18 to 450 in 2018-19.
Next year, Wessel’s own daughter will join them, and her yet-to-be-born baby will attend the school as well. Wessel loves the Baldwin-Whitehall School District so much that eight years ago, she and her husband moved to the district.
“I was looking for my forever home,” she said. “I was so invested in what we were doing and the dynamics here.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.