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Spokane school principal offering a global perspective

Shellye Horowitz, the new principal at Madison Elementary School in Spokane, plays catch with third-grader Chance Schmidt during recess on Wednesday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Shellye Horowitz, the new principal at Madison Elementary School in Spokane, plays catch with third-grader Chance Schmidt during recess on Wednesday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Shellye Horowitz moves from child to child during the long lunch recess; she ties a student’s shoelaces, retrieves a loose ball and strikes up a chat with everyone.

The new principal of Madison Elementary has traveled a long way to lead the north Spokane school. A mother of two, she wanted to return to an area she fell in love with during the late 1990s, and to a place where bombings are not an everyday concern.

Horowitz arrived this summer after spending more than a decade in Israel. The last five years she helped run the Jerusalem American International School where children from 39 countries learned side by side.

Her experience is valuable. At a time when Spokane Public Schools is revamping its curriculum, Horowitz brings ideas from around the world.

Superintendent Shelley Redinger hired her, in part, to inject an international perspective as her new administration makes changes.

“When I applied (with Spokane Public Schools), I really wanted to come back to the states,” Horowitz said. “I thought: I’m in Jerusalem. Are they really going to take me seriously?”

Redinger did.

With a career of counseling school-age kids in mind, Horowitz earned a bachelor’s degree in social science and then a master’s in psychology. She ran a peer counseling center for college students and trained others how to be counselors.

About the same time, Horowitz learned her father, Marty Howard, had HIV. He was one of the first hemophiliacs on record to contract the virus through a blood transfusion, she said.

His illness put Horowitz on a path to teach young people about HIV/AIDS prevention. She talked of abstinence and other forms of prevention to thousands of people at seminars, in classes, across the radio waves and in high school gymnasiums.

She and her family were featured on CBS’ “48 Hours” in 1995.

By 1998 Horowitz arrived in the Inland Northwest as a counselor in the Coeur d’Alene School District. While at an elementary school, she trained at Gonzaga University in leadership and administration.

She left Coeur d’Alene for Israel to hone her administrative skills. When Horowitz went to the Middle East in 2001 for an internship, she didn’t plan to stay for 12 years.

Michael Levinson worked with Horowitz when she arrived at the Walworth Barbour American International School – a school overseen by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Levinson described her as “incredibly bright, high energy, creative and good with kids and adults.”

After a yearlong internship, Horowitz took a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development, teaching English as well as writing for publications. Three years later, Horowitz returned to the international school to work as a counselor.

When the job at Jerusalem American International School opened up, “she was perfect for the position,” Levinson said. Horowitz added middle and high school to the existing pre-K-through-6 program, doubling the student population.

“We had Palestinians sitting next to Israelis. We really did bring students together,” Horowitz said. Although supportive, Horowitz’s family worried about her living and working in Israel. Her grandmother had a map of the country. Each time there was a bombing she’d put a pin in it and measure the distance to her granddaughter’s location.

People held their breath when they pulled up next to a bus in their car because those were often terrorists’ targets, Horowitz said. “We had to do our socializing at home because for a time we couldn’t be out in a public place because of the risk of bombing.”

The scariest moment came about 2 p.m. on a school day when air raid sirens sounded – it was the first time that had happened in 20 years.

“From the time it goes off, you have 90 seconds to get to the shelter … we were in a building without a bomb shelter, so we had to get them to the lowest point in the building,” she said. “It was a small hallway. When this happens you think: How do I talk to them?”

Horowitz is glad to be in Spokane where the politics and the climate are cooler, she said. Running an international school, she learned about K-12 education all over the globe.

The woman who Madison Elementary students call Miss Shellye calls her life from college until now “an adventure. And I hope there’s more.”

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