Bismarck-Henning Elementary's new principal following in friend's footsteps

Bismarck-Henning Elementary's new principal following in friend's footsteps

BISMARCK — Lisa Acton can't think of a higher honor than following in the footsteps of her former boss and mentor, Laura Girton.

"Above all else, Laura left a legacy of putting students first," said Acton, who was named principal of Bismarck-Henning Elementary School earlier this summer. "That will be at the forefront of all the decisions I make."

Acton had served as the school's acting principal since January and was the best candidate for the job, said Superintendent Scott Watson. She will oversee the school of 340 K-4 students, 50 or so pre-K students and around 30 staff members.

A Rossville native, Acton came from a family of educators that included her mom, Cindy Masengale, a librarian and later an administrator at Hoopeston Area High School.

But after graduating from Rossville High in 1997, she decided to forge a different path and earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and public relations from Eastern Illinois in 2001 and a master's in communications from Southern Illinois in 2002.

With her newly-minted diplomas, she worked at the Danville Chamber of Commerce, then as manager of Danville's Village Mall.

"I loved what I did, but I knew education was where my heart was at," she said.

So despite having two children under two, she recalled with a laugh, she went back to school and earned a second master's.

Acton started off teaching third grade at Oakwood Elementary, then moved to Bismarck Elementary, "where Laura was my boss.

"She also truly was my mentor and friend," said Acton, who eventually left teaching to become Hoopeston schools' Response To Intervention coordinator after earning another master's degree — from Olivet Nazarene, this one in educational leadership. "When I left to go to Hoopeston, Laura was the first person who I went to if I needed advice on how to handle something."

Last August, Acton returned to Bismarck-Henning as the district's curriculum coordinator. She took over as the grade school's acting principal when Girton took a medical leave of absence.

Girton passed away on May 24, 2018.

Acton is grateful the two got to work closely together on a project to boost the STEM curriculum at the grade school. After attending a conference last September and visiting Oakwood's makerspace rooms for inspiration, they converted an old locker room into a makerspace room where students learn science, technology, engineering and math concepts through a variety of fun, hands-on projects.

"What really resonated with me at Oakwood is they had Lego kits, where the kids could make robots. One student was able to program her robot in 15 minutes. That same student was struggling with math and reading," she said, adding that that reinforced the need to provide children with different ways to learn.

"We have Lego robotics, gears and circuits, computer programming. They can build roller coasters. It's amazing, and the kids love it," Acton continued, adding that all preK-4 students rotate through the room one to three times a week.

This year, she added, students will have 10 new Chromebooks, donated by the parents' club.

Acton and her husband, Justin, who owns a construction company, live in Rossville. Their daughters — Ava, 11, and Ella, 10 — attend Rossville schools.

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