Ridgewood Roundup

Tom Akers
Retired Cambridge Principal Shelly Capps and Cambridge student Addison Diefendorf.

Capps Retires from Cambridge Elementary

Making memories and making sure her students know they are loved are the two goals Shelly Capps has had for the past twenty one years. Capps stepped down as the principal at Cambridge Elementary School after over two decades. Capps officially handed over the reins to Heather Pine, the new principal, on July 1st.

She graduated from Orion High School and received her Associate’s Degree from Blackhawk Community College and her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Western Illinois University.

She originally thought about going into nursing but working as an aide at Hammond Henry Hospital in the extended care area made Capps consider a different direction, “I changed my mind about nursing when I decided that, with nursing, you see pain, you see heartache and sometimes you deal with death. I wanted to be where there was LIFE. Children and learning is a quintessential example of life!” Capps chose special education because she wanted to work closely with children to connect with them more deeply and to make a difference for the kids who struggled a little more than others.

Capps was hired in Sherrard where she spent eleven years teaching special education. However, she began to want to make a bigger impact on students, “I wanted to make an impact on a systemic level. I wanted all children to know they are loved, respected, safe, and the school's learning environment was a place to grow, I wanted hope to move beyond my classroom walls.”

She graduated with her Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Western Illinois University in 1996 with the plan to wait for a position to open up in the Sherrard School District until a coworker told her about a principal position open in the Cambridge School District. Capps did some research and sent her resume to then Superintendent Jim Berthold who invited her in for an interview, “Of course I said yes! What I didn't understand until I received a letter explaining the process would be about 8-10 hours long!!!! I met with individual groups within the community, support staff, teachers, Mr. Caras, the high school principal, the interim principal at the grade school, the superintendent and the board. By the end of the night, I was EXHAUSTED!!!”

Berthold called a few days later to offer her the position. She accepted his offer and moved to Cambridge. It didn’t take long for Capps and her daughter Meredith to feel at home, “I fell in love with Cambridge, and knew this would be a place that Mer and I could love and stay.”

Over the past twenty one years Capps has seen a lot of changes in education but has remained focused on the most important part of her job, “THE KIDS!!!!! All of them-each and every single one. I saw a former student at the fair last month. He said, "I was one of your favorites because I was the biggest pain!" I told him he most certainly was one of my favorites. What he didn't know is that every kid was/is one of my favorites and all for very specific reasons. I loved getting to know each and every single kid on a very personal level. I got to be the school parent of every single kid there.”

The Cambridge community and her staff have also stood out to Capps, “Cambridge has a wonderful community full of caring individuals who feel like extended family. I couldn't have asked for a better community for my own child to be raised in.” She also credits the people in the school district beginning with the school board to the administrative team to the teachers to the paraprofessionals, bus drivers, kitchen staff, and custodians as being “WAY AWESOME AND AMAZING! It's been an interesting journey to get to that point, but people who come into the building FEEL that specialness that is Cambridge Schools. We are a family.”

A lack of consistent school funding and filling out state reports and grants ranks top on Capps’ list she will not miss as a school administrator; however she credits her staff with the ability to be creative and always find a way to get the students what they needed to have. The heartbreak of the challenges families have to overcome also ranks on her list; “It was heart wrenching sometimes, we all did what we could, but sometimes it wasn't possible to make the impact outside of the school walls, so we did the best we could while they were with us.” Finally, being on call 24/7 as a small town principal including three a.m. phone calls from the security company to go inspect the building in her pajamas is something Capps will not miss.

However, it’s the memories, “too many to mention” that Shelly Capps will cherish. She plans to remain in Cambridge with her daughter Meredith, husband Steve, and their sidekick Cali the Wonderdog! She will also spend a lot of time with her parents who live in Milan and her niece and nephew and their kids in LeClaire.

Capps also plans on taking some time to use all of the crafting materials she’s accumulated over the years and to give a name to every single gnome she has in her collection, which “could take years” She will not be a stranger to the elementary school hoping to keep a hand in the programs she began at the school such as Caring Hearts, Shop With A Cop, Daddy/Daughter Dances. “ I hope to be able to continue to help with, and anything else within the school that needs a spare set of hands and a laugh or a smile.”

Shelly Capps’ final wish for the staff, students, and parents of Cambridge is simple: You are loved, and you will always be remembered. Do your best and leave your POSITIVE mark wherever you go. Make sure you are being honest with yourself and moving forward in all you do. Mistakes are part of learning too! Always remember that, whatever you do, give it all you've got!”