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Fallon grad becomes Pyramid Lake principal

By Thomas Ranson Nevada News Group
Fallon graduate Mandie Lister is the new principal at Pyramid Lake Junior/Senior High School.
Photo courtesy of Mandie Lister

Mandie Lister’s background prepared her for a leadership role

Working as a law enforcement dispatcher while getting her four-year degree in Reno, Mandie Lister found her calling.

“There was an emergency incident that happened at the high school that made me want to be closer to the students and be there to help and support them and make the high school better,” she said.

Since that incident, Lister has earned two master’s degrees and a Doctorate of Education. Those countless hours devoted toward her higher education degrees along with working as the school counselor at Churchill County High School have paid off for the 1998 Fallon grad. Lister was named principal of Pyramid Lake Junior/Senior High School at Nixon this summer.

“A friend that I previously worked with at CCHS let me know that the position was available,” Lister said. “I had applied to a variety of administrator positions throughout Northern Nevada and felt that I should apply to this position as well. Pyramid Lake had both its principal and assistant principal positions come open at the same time, so I decided to apply for both positions.”

And Lister enters school administration at a unique time. 

With the pandemic forcing school districts to adapt to distancing and hybrid learning, Lister has been able to focus on her skills and experience from working in law enforcement and at Churchill County High School. 

“It has been challenging to step in as a school leader at this time. Education looks differently than it has in the past,” she said. “The skills that I have built through all of my years of education and experience have assisted me in making the difficult decisions that will impact the students, families and the community members. Even though it has been a challenge to start the school this year, it has been a worthwhile transition into the role as principal.”

The road to Pyramid

Lister earned a Master of Arts degree in counseling and educational psychology with an emphasis in school counseling. After receiving advice from a Churchill County administrator, Lister, who wanted to return to the district and work, returned to school to earn her post-master certification as a teacher from Sierra Nevada College.

“I was trying to return home and work for the Churchill County School District and he said that it was probably going to be easier to transfer in as a teacher and then wait for a counseling position to open up,” Lister said of Scott Meihack. “After a few years in education, I knew that I wanted to become an administrator to be able to make a greater impact in the schools in Fallon. The school district has often hired administrators from out of town, and I wanted to prepare myself to be in a position to become a school leader in Churchill County.”

Since graduating from Churchill County High School, Lister has made her fair share of stops in her educational and professional careers.

After attending school in Fallon, Lister attended Southern Utah University for one year and then transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. After obtaining her teacher certification, while working as a school counselor at CCHS, Lister enrolled at Western Governors University where she earned a Master of Science degree in educational leadership. Lister, who set a goal to become a superintendent, returned to school again and obtained a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Northcentral University last year.

“I am very proud of my accomplishments because all of my education has been completed while working full-time and supporting my family as a single mom,” said Lister, who has two children.

Hoping to make a difference

Lister knows her experience, although plentiful, can grow even more with the new position.

The principal position is not like most schools. Lister said she’s responsible for all aspects of the school, including human resources, transportation, facilities, informational technology and education. Being principal is like a superintendent, which is Lister’s dream job.

“This new position has given me the opportunity to further develop my experience and skills as not only an administrator, but as a superintendent as well,” she said. “I have been blessed and I am so thankful to be able to lead in this new capacity and learn as much as possible about each aspect of the school and school district.”

Lister wants nothing but the best for her students and staff. High on her list, too, is the Native American culture at Pyramid Lake.

“I plan to individualize education for each student and make what we teach relevant to their post-secondary goals,” Lister said. “The Native American culture is very important at Pyramid Lake and I plan to honor this by continuing to offer Native language, Native art, and Native dance classes and by incorporating more classes and events that bring in the rich traditions of the community into our school.”

Although she hasn’t been on the job long, Lister said she’s looking forward to meeting her students after they return to in-person schooling. 

“Since we are in distance learning, I have only met some of our students in person,” said Lister, who commutes four days a week from Fallon. “I can’t wait until they return to school so we can meet each other face to face and so that I can get to know them individually and work with them to improve their school experiences. I am looking forward to meeting all of the community members and building relationships with them as well. I am also looking forward to the experience that I will gain as an administrator at Pyramid Lake Jr Sr High School.”

Overcoming challenges

Lister’s road to school administration hasn’t been easy. 

In addition to being the school counselor and dean at CCHS, Lister was the only counselor at Fernley Middle School, which had more than 850 students. When she was at Churchill County Middle School, the enrollment and ratio were the same. 

“Each year presents new opportunities for learning and growth,” Lister said. “The biggest challenges have been finding creative ways to serve students with the budget and staff members that we have available.”

Lister’s arsenal of skill sets helped her overcome the challenges, which is why she feels like a good fit at Pyramid Lake. Multi-tasking, time management and organization have been critical to Lister’s success. 

“I used every minute of every day to meet the needs of students in a systematic way,” she said. “This has helped me to develop the skills necessary to be an excellent administrator. I am able to look at the challenges of a situation and streamline the processes and procedures to make them more efficient.”

Her skillset has also helped conquer challenges outside of education. 

Being a single mother, working full-time and earning her degrees at the same time has made it difficult for Lister to achieve her goals. But her two children have been the driving force to keep Lister focused. One is still attending school in Churchill County after her oldest graduated from CCHS in 2019.

“This has made it important for me to keep working full-time to support them while also attending school,” said Lister, who’s been the sole provider. “It has been very difficult, but my family has been a tremendous support to me in helping me to accomplish my goals.”

And it helps to have technology on your side to finish your education.

“With the opportunities I have had available through technology, I was able to complete the latter portion of my education through online universities,” Lister added.

In her new role, Lister looks forward to putting her education and experience to the test at Pyramid Lake. 

She still remembers her first-grade teachers and how they made the students feel important and special. That experience as a student plus the many years obtaining her degrees while providing for her two children is why she’s out to make a difference in the students’ lives.

“I hope to carry on the tradition of making each student feel special and important by building high-quality relationships with students, parents, staff members, and the community to provide the best educational opportunities for all of our children,” Lister said.