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  • Jordan D. Smith

Meet Mrs. Manika, Oakwood Elementary’s New Principal

As parents have learned over the past few years of distance and then virtual day learning, teaching young children is challenging to say the least. It takes a very special type of person to be an elementary school teacher. That is equally true of elementary school principals. When you wrap both into one, you get the sort of infectious enthusiasm of Oakwood Elementary Schools’ new principal Rebecca Manika (pronounced: man-EE-ca).

Manika started in the role at the beginning of July after a rocky transition period for the school. As previously reported in the Beacon, her predecessor Elizabeth Findley left Oakwood in March and an interim principal took over for the remainder of the school year. The position was offered to one candidate who accepted and then quickly resigned due to being in consideration for a position as superintendent in another district.

The first in her family to graduate college, Manika earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Central Michigan University. She taught mostly middle elementary grades for eight years in Mt. Pleasant Public Schools and then another five years in Dewitt Public Schools. She and her husband and two sons moved to Dewitt. During her time at Dewitt she returned to CMU where she earned her Masters in Educational Leadership.

Although Manika says she loves working with kids in the classroom over the years she found herself being promoted to roles of leadership within her school. People she worked with told her she “had the aptitude for leadership,” which got her thinking about leaving the classroom and entering administration. When the opportunity arose in Portland, Manika went for it and landed the role. According to Portland Superintendent, Will Heath, “Becky brings an excellent skill set to this position and a contagious energy and passion for early elementary education.”

Manika says she is a teacher at heart and wants to make it the focus of her leadership of the school to unite teachers, parents, students, and the broader community around doing “what is best for the kids.” One area in particular that she is especially eager to make her mark on is in the area of science education. It is relatively rare for elementary teachers to have a science background in college like Manika does, and thus it is often underemphasized at the lowest grades in favor of subjects like reading and math. As part of this emphasis on science education at the elementary level, the school is adding a new dedicated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher this year who will be responsible for taking what is often an overlooked aspect of early childhood education to the forefront.

She is also a proponent of “project based learning” in which students apply their learning in practical ways beyond traditional paper and pencil assessments. In particular she is looking forward to implementing some initiatives that partner classrooms with local businesses and organizations to help showcase student learning for the broader community to see.

Looking forward to the beginning of the new school year starting next month, Manika acknowledges that a major challenge is that what school will look like this coming year is still largely unknown. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” says Manika. After a school year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic in which students wore masks, stayed in their classroom cohorts to minimize quarantining, and had distance learning days most weeks, much remains up in the air. While much remains unknown, Manika says one thing is clear; although, “the pandemic is still here--we are going to be ok.”

She looks forward to the school year starting as normal as possible with the recognition that COVID mitigation guidelines may continue to change as the school year goes on. And yet, despite that uncertainty, she exudes enthusiasm for helping Portland’s students learn and excitement for the beginning of the coming school year. At a time when most students (and many teachers) are trying to ignore the school supply advertisements and enjoy summer break, Manika is clearly ready to hit the ground running.


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