Sandy Winters 

The Capital High School principal's game plan for making the first day of school "the best day ever"

"Coach" is the perfect word to describe Sandy Winters, a superb athlete in her formative years, an athletic director in her early professional life and a principal at four Boise schools—most recently Capital High School, where she uses core coaching axioms to this day.

In anticipation of launching another school year, Winters talked with BW about what it takes to helm Capital High, which has been named one of the top 1,600 high schools in the U.S. by The Washington Post for seven years in a row.

Did an athletic scholarship have something to do with where you went to college?

Absolutely. I played [volleyball] at Boise State. I bleed blue and orange.

And how did you parlay those skills after graduating?

I returned to eastern Idaho, where I grew up. I was a school teacher and coach in schools in both Idaho Falls and Pocatello.

What brought you to Boise?

In 1994, I was hired to teach physical education and health; plus, I was the head volleyball coach at Boise High. Three years later, I had the privilege to help open Timberline High, where I taught and coached volleyball. A couple of years later, I became Timberline's athletic director.

Beginning in 2002, you began a decade-long tenure as an elementary school principal.

That's right—at White Pine and Riverside. Those were great years, because an elementary school principal eventually has to do everything: administration, bookkeeping, curriculum... everything.

I'm sure that I'm not the first to say this to you, but it sounds a bit like coaching.

You know, when I first started out as a principal, I tried to do things differently, but I asked [myself], "What am I doing?" I needed to follow the principles I'd learned as an athlete and coach. When I stay true to those values, that's when I can serve people best.

Next came two years at Riverglen Junior High. Pardon me, but isn't middle school usually chaos?

It was great for me. It's a huge transition period for kids. I think when you stay true to your passion, then you don't get lost in the chaos. You have to remember your purpose.

You've been at Capital High for two years now. Talk to me about the community that surrounds your school.

In large measure, it represents the city of Boise as a whole. We have kids who are in desperate need of support, and we have kids from some really affluent families who have all the support they need. Across all the demographics, our parents have a deep understanding that if you work hard and have goals, you'll succeed at a high level.

Can you allay the fears of the hundreds of 10th graders who walked through your doors for the first time on Aug. 22?

You'll only have one first day of high school, so last year, we decided when parents ask their 10th graders, "How was your first day of school?" their only response would be, "That was the most awesome day ever." We had a total celebration. We even called it, "Happy New Year." The kids walked through a gauntlet, a radio station was there to broadcast—it was super exciting. It's all about creating something meaningful to build a special bond. Yes, we got around to the rules the next day, but that first day? It was really dramatic. Social media lit up with kids writing, "That was so awesome. Today was the best day ever."

How will you duplicate that this year?

We've been meeting with our student council, and they've got some amazing ideas. They said, "This has to be the best first day on the planet."

I can't believe I'm saying this, but you're making me miss high school. I think I want to go to Capital.

I know. We'll send pictures.

Is your daughter following in your footsteps?

Well, she has my height. She's playing basketball in college.

At Boise State?

The University of Idaho.


I know, I know. I still bleed blue and orange, but, yes, she's a Vandal. I told them I wouldn't sing the Vandal fight song until I signed her papers to go to U of I.

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