Q&A: Krista Finklea of Washington STEM Academy
On Sunday mornings, you're sure to find Krista Finklea singing hymns of praise at Champaign's First Christian Church along with husband Josh, the family ministries pastor.
And starting bright and early every Monday, the mother of four begins her other weekly routine — leading a staff of 40 and a student body of 450 as the new interim principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary STEM Academy in Champaign.
With school back in session across Champaign-Urbana, we caught up with Finklea, 42, for a wide-ranging conversation.
How did you meet your husband?
My husband, Josh, is a pastor at the First Christian Church. I met him at a church I attended, the Marengo Christian Church in Marengo, Ind. He got hired as a youth minister there. I came home from college for Christmas break and he was working there. We spent Christmas break hanging out together. He had just got out of college, and we fell in love, got married, and here we are today.
We have four children: Clay, 20, McKenzie, 17, Tate, 12, and Abbey, 12. We adopted both Tate and Abbey. They are only eight days apart, but they are not biological siblings. So they are like twins, but not true twins.
You adopted two children at the same time. How'd that come about?
We adopted them when they were two years old from Haiti because Josh and I felt that our family was not yet complete. Originally, we were going through the adoption process with Tate, and they sent us a picture of Abbey, who was his little cribmate in the orphanage. They asked us if we would think of adopting two so they wouldn't be separated. When we saw little Abbey's picture, we just couldn't say no. So we adopted both of them.
Would you recommend adoption for other parents?
Absolutely. It was the best thing our family ever did. They complete us and bring us joy.
Did you always want to teach?
I always kinda thought about being a teacher. Both of my parents were working class people. My dad, who was a factory worker, told me he had always wanted to be a teacher. It was always his dream, and he always spoke very highly of teachers. My mom was a church secretary at that same church where I met Josh. My parents always wanted me and my brother to go to college and have the opportunity to fulfill our dreams. I wanted to make my dad proud.
How busy were you in school?
I was involved with anything I could be involved in. I was a hitter on the volleyball team and a forward on the basketball team. I was the president of the Pep Club, a tutor and I was in the choir.
So as principal, do you believe it is important to have lots of opportunities for the children at the STEM Academy?
Absolutely. One way to get kids engaged in school is to have them be part of something. I want every kid to find their place in school, whether it be athletics or a club. At Booker T. Washington, we offer a lot of after-school activities for our kids. We have about 11 different clubs you can join, ranging from engineering to basketball to gardening.
Where did you go to college?
I started at Ball State University in Indiana and ended up graduating with a degree in elementary education from Indiana University in 1997. Because I had been involved in sports, I entered college with the idea I was either going to be an athletic trainer or a teacher. Over time I realized that I liked teaching better. After graduating from IU, I worked as a third grade teacher while I pursued graduate school. I got my master's degree in from William Woods University's campus in Hannibal, Mo.
How are STEM schools unique?
We focus on science, technology, engineering and math, so we incorporate that in all content areas. We're more of a specialized school than a regular elementary school might be. It's a choice school, so kids can choose to come here from throughout the district. We have been really successful in having a lot of kids from different areas want to attend. BTW also has a gifted strand. We all want our kids to be challenged. Whether a child is in a gifted strand or a regular strand, both of them need to be challenged.
What was the most stressful part about teaching for you?
Finding enough time to get everything accomplished. When you have kids at so many different levels, it is hard to get them where I want them to be. That's very frustrating.
And the most rewarding part?
I just love kids. I love to see people be successful. My greatest joy is to work with someone, whether it be a teacher or a student, and see the person become successful.
Do you miss being in the classroom?
I do. I try to get out in the classroom as much as I can. ... I do miss having my own set of kids to work with and know really well.
A few last personal ones. Whose poster was on your bedroom wall when you were young?
I liked the Dukes of Hazzard. They were great. I always liked Bo Duke a little bit better. Their poster was on the wall.
Your favorite food?
I really like cheesecake. That's one of the great things in life.
What's your ideal vacation destination?
Anywhere on a beach. I love the ocean. It's a soothing thing to me.
The Finklea File
Occupation: Interim principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.
Family: Husband Josh. Children Clay, 20, McKenzie, 17, Tate, 12, and Abbey, 12.