Lisa Leliaert wraps up first year as MIS principal, building teamwork and community

Any time away from Maxwell Intermediate School is too long for Principal Lisa Leliaert.

A 20-year champion of Greenfield-Central Schools with most of her time at MIS, Leliaert says her heart and her community are in this building.

“It just feels like home to me,” she said.

Leliaert is wrapping up her first academic year as principal at the school that serves fourth- through sixth-grade students. 

Relationships and teamwork are at the core of what Leliaert hopes to build at MIS. That’s not only reflected in how she listens to teachers but also through student development. Take a walk through MIS on any given day and you’ll find groups of three and four students together on a marker board, solving mathematical problems or brainstorming what they learned in a book.

“Can you show me the process?” Leliaert asked a group of sixth grade boys one recent April afternoon as they solved a triangle math problem on the board. “Looks like you’re trying to figure out a pattern– what’s your process?”

Leliaert says she doesn’t want a quiet school– sure, quiet is needed for testing, but for the most part she wants to hear kids working together. Answers are not as important as the process of how students got there. She wants questions, ideas, laughter and joy– but still, order.

Oftentimes, students will come into a room and grab a playing card with a number on it. That number points them to the table at which they should sit that day. It creates a new combination of students to meet with every day, and allows children to understand the importance of working together.

“I’m not going to force everyone to be friends in the school, however we all have to be respectful classmates,” she said, adding that the GIS motto encourages students to be respectful, responsible and exhibit a positive attitude.

She became principal in October. Leliaert was assistant principal when Jobie Whitaker took on a job elsewhere, and it was a natural fit to be awarded the principal job based on her years of experience and ability to work together with the staff.

Originally from Ferdinand, Indiana, Leliaert lives in Fishers but has been part of the Greenfield community for years. She started at G-C schools in 2004 as a fourth-grade teacher at Weston Elementary, then taught fourth grade at MIS from 2010-2016. She was an instructional coach at both of Greenfield’s intermediate schools for four years before becoming an administrator.

“The first thing they think about is, ‘How is this going to impact students?’” Leliaert said.

“Lisa’s experiences in different schools has enabled her to learn from many great educators in her career, including teachers and administrators,” said Superintendent Dr. Harold Olin. “Mrs. Leliaert is a professional sponge, and she has an amazing ability to retain the knowledge of others and to embrace the positive skills, habits, traits and attributes of other great educators who have gone before her.”

Her work over the years as an instructional coach means many of the teachers trust her to share in the joys and struggles of the classroom. One fifth-grade teacher, for example, will often text her to say, “You gotta come in and see this” when her students have a lightbulb moment. Leliaert will dash upstairs to the classroom, and it validates the work the fifth graders are doing in math and also encourages the teacher. 

Being at the school so long has given her insight into how each teacher wants feedback. Some want long conversations and enjoy getting into personal details like their future vacation plans or how their dogs are doing at home. Others, she said, would rather have a simple encouraging note in the mailbox. She tries to be intentional about checking in with each staff member regularly, and always ends formal teacher evaluation meetings with, “What one change can I make as a leader to better support you?”

She gives the teachers plenty of credit for the success of MIS: they put student growth at the forefront.

“The first thing they think about is, ‘How is this going to impact students?’” Leliaert said.

This year MIS has been working at improving writing skills, not only because testing data shows that’s where growth could happen, but because it’s a skill they need for life. With improving writing, she said, comes better communication because they are able to clearly articulate their thoughts. Teachers at both G-C intermediate schools are working through “The Writing Revolution” book this year, and they’re becoming intentional about giving “actionable feedback” – ways students can grow and improve.

She serves as a mentor to teacher Mechelle Smith, who is working on getting a special needs license and administration skills. Smith said Leliaert exhibits strength, honesty and transparency, and her ability to collaborate and hear all voices is an asset to the MIS community.

“She works diligently to meet student and staff needs to enhance the well-being of our school community,” Smith said. “She demonstrates a commitment to developing quality rigorous academics to build lifelong learning. She does all of this while loving and supporting her own family. She also knows laughter is an important part of every day.”

Olin said he appreciates Leliaert’s vision for the school, yet her ability to listen to ideas and be collaborative in moving the school forward. Beyond having a wealth of knowledge related to instruction, Leliaert has an uncanny way of being able to apply new things she’s learned.

“But more important than anything on her stellar resume, Lisa is simply a caring professional who wants everyone to enjoy their educational experience at Maxwell Intermediate School,” Olin said. “She works tirelessly to make that happen.”

“But more important than anything on her stellar resume, Lisa is simply a caring professional who wants everyone to enjoy their educational experience at Maxwell Intermediate School,” Olin said. “She works tirelessly to make that happen.”

Leliaert said she wants to continue the high expectations of her predecessor, and said any changes she’s made this year have been slow and steady.

“I constantly think about, what is the smallest change we can make that will have the biggest impact on students?’” she said. “There are already so many positive things happening at MIS. I want to model being a lifelong learner by making small changes to support our students.”

Leliaert is looking forward to year-end activities, including the traditional sixth-grade “Survivor” style games. Summer plans for Leliaert include spending time with her family, watching her sons play sports, and helping her daughter finish college visits. Her kids and their cousins are big roller coaster fans, so there will likely be at least one theme park visit as well.

She’s also looking ahead to the 2024-2025 school year. She said one of her greatest moments with a student this year was actually a culmination of many small moments:

“I have a student who checks in with me each morning right after getting off the bus and talks with me right before she gets on the bus each afternoon,” Leliaert said. “Our ongoing joke happens each Friday when she asks if it is really Friday because she wants to come back to school on Saturday and Sunday, too. She is an example of how I want each and every one of our students to feel. I want them to get up each morning wanting to come to school, feel a deep sense of belonging, and love their time at school each day.”

By Maribeth Vaughn