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Board Approves Anne R. Van Kirk Early Childhood Wing

In recognition of the significant contributions made to Sycamore Community Schools during her tenure, the Board of Education has approved permanently naming the new early childhood education wing at Symmes Elementary the Anne R. Van Kirk Early Childhood Wing after late principal Anne Van Kirk. Her decades of service to our schools impacted thousands of students, families, and staff members.  In addition, the timing of the completion of the new wing presents a special and rare circumstance for recognizing the remarkable legacy of this exceptional individual.

Mrs. Van Kirk’s noteworthy service to her school and energizing passion for supporting her community make her worthy of this recognition.  Mrs. Vankirk served the district for 32 years.

She began her career in 1988 as a special education teacher at E.H. Greene Intermediate, later moving to Symmes Elementary where she taught Grades 2-4. Mrs. Van Kirk served as assistant principal at Symmes Elementary before becoming the principal in 2002.

Under her leadership, Symmes Elementary has received national and state recognition for its excellence. Symmes Elementary School was named a National Blue Ribbon by the U.S. Department of Education in 1994. Symmes was named amongst the top 20 elementary schools in the state of Ohio by Niche Report for the past seven years, reaching as high as the third-ranked elementary school in 2019. Symmes has also been recognized as one of the Cincinnati Business Courier's Top 25 Top 11 Greater Cincinnati Best Public Elementary Schools.

Early childhood opportunities were particularly important to VanKirk.  She played an important role in Sycamore Community Schools’ initial preschool program when it moved to Symmes Elementary in 1993. She helped expand the program from two sections to eight sections, providing more opportunities for families. In 2007, she introduced the Head Start program to the district, which now serves all four elementary schools with after-school programming. She also supported efforts that led to the district receiving the Five-Star Step Up To Quality Award from the State of Ohio. This recognition is the highest the Ohio Department of Education awards to preschool programs throughout the state.

In addition to providing outstanding educational opportunities for children, Van Kirk was a visionary who believed in the importance of supporting the whole child. She worked to educate and guide students in becoming happy, healthy, and productive citizens.  She was one of the first administrators in the district to seek out positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS). In 2017, she implemented Peacebuilders at Symmes Elementary, providing a framework for identifying school behavioral expectations, teaching students positive behaviors, and acknowledging students for making positive choices. The program led other elementary schools to follow suit and served as the launching point for districtwide PBIS implementation. She also led the district in launching responsive classroom practices, teaching social-emotional learning and relationship building at the beginning of each school day. 

During her tenure, the Sycamore Nature Trail at Symmes was created in 1989 and later rejuvenated as a resource for environmental education for all students in the district. In 2016, Symmes received the Ohio Environmental Education Fund Grant to fund teaching, training, and technology to assist students in further exploration of the 9-acre wooded watershed. Since that time, more than 10,000 children have visited the trail.  With VanKirk’s support, the trail has become a beloved resource to the surrounding Sycamore and Symmes community.

Helping the many families with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds at Symmes to feel connected to the school and to be able to access needed resources was important to VanKirk.  In 2018, Symmes Elementary launched the first Sycamore Ambassadors program to assist new families, especially those with a language barrier, in their transition to Symmes Elementary. The volunteer parent program has since spread to all seven Sycamore schools. 

With her continued support, Symmes Players, an after-school drama group, just entered into its 23rd year. VanKirk was particularly proud of this very popular opportunity for her students.  The Symmes PTO’s hallmark program is yet another example of what has made Symmes Elementary, under Vankirk’s leadership, truly unique. 

Mrs. Van Kirk was the model of an inclusive leader. She cared deeply about the school's mission to serve all students with equity of opportunity and compassionate care.  Anne’s lasting legacy is that she made everyone in the Symmes community feel supported and welcome at school. She fought tirelessly for programs to support families as well as students. Van Kirk also served on the district’s Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP) team, the STEAM Committee, Wellness Committee, and provided staff training for the Parenting Partners program.

Mrs. Van Kirk was not only a passionate educator but an advocate for homelessness and children in need even outside of school. She was actively involved in Operation Give Back, supporting the organization’s mission to strive for educational equity and provide outreach to students and families in need. She frequently funded anonymous needs herself, paying off water bills, giving grocery cards, and donating appliances to families in need prior to the creation of Sycamore Bridges.  She also served on the Board of Directors for Childhood Food Solutions for 11 years and was involved in Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, and Cooperative for Education. 

Mrs. Van Kirk led with her heart focused on Symmes students, staff, and families. She was the epitome of servant leadership, leaving an indelible mark on the school she loved so deeply. Symmes Elementary was and is a reflection of Mrs. Van Kirk’s leadership and passion. Her passion and selfless devotion to her school community helped students of all backgrounds to reach their full potential.  The Symmes community and surrounding area are forever impacted by this individual’s unending influence to positively impact the lives of those around her.

The new wing is currently under construction as part of the district’s $127.5 million Master Facility Plan. The district anticipates it will be completed by Fall 2021.