To share Vista Middle School Principal Heather Leighton’s story is to share a story about the people she loves. Heather reflects on that and says, “I was fortunate enough to grow up with a family that has strong cultural boundaries. Living next door to my grandmother and with aunties whom served as pillars in our home provided me with a strong foundation.”
Leighton has four children, Winterhawk, Watiko, Jaie, and daughter Merisa. Winterhawk is a junior playing college football at Central Washington University. Watiko recently committed to play football at Southern Oregon University. Jaie is a sophomore at Lummi Nation School. Merisa works as the Heath/Policy Coordinator for the Lummi Indian Business Council and is a new mom to Heather’s first grandchild, Kashus.
“I am proud to be a member of the Lummi Nation. We are the Lhaq'temish people, the Lummi people. My ancestors have laid the foundation for my future. I honor and acknowledge the sacrifices they made on my behalf. It is for this reason, I always do my best to live a good life.” Leighton goes on to say, “Those sacrifices have grounded me to one world while giving me what I needed to go out and earn my Bachelor’s Degree and two Master’s Degrees. My Grandma paved the way and taught me the importance of walking in two worlds, meaning education is important as is our cultural ways of life. That is what I do. That is part of what I try to teach my students and my own kids – learn to walk in two worlds.”
Heather says that “walking in two worlds,” has special meaning. It is a way of living life through the lens of your own culture and reaching for the tools needed to live in the outside world. “This is a special part of my Grandma’s legacy in our family,” she says. “My Grandma knew that the world was changing. She knew that to be complete spiritually, we needed to stay grounded in our culture but that we needed to learn to also exist in the modern world.”
For her Grandma, that meant education. Heather’s mom was the first to take up that charge having achieved a Master’s Degree in Anthropology; she is now the Dean of Indigenous Education at Northwest Indian College. Heather and her three siblings have a Doctorate and four Masters Degrees between them.
If you have seen Heather Leighton in action as Principal at Vista Middle School you know that she is passionate about kids. You know that she is a fearless leader. You know that she is innovative. You know that she is committed to excellence. What you might not know? Part of why Heather loves Vista students is because she WAS a Vista student.
“I started at Mountain View Elementary. I remember Kindergarten vividly because we had a para-educator named Janette Jefferson who supported me. Janette was a Lummi Tribal Member. That was important. I saw her and thought that I could do what she did – I could be a teacher,” Leighton goes on to talk about her experience at Vista Middle School, “I had three teachers at Vista that really impacted my life. Mr. Williams, Mr. Freeman and Ms. Hebert. I love Middle School so much because I feel like it is a pivotal time in life. I could have gone either way myself but I was fortunate to have had teachers who really showed up for me. Ms. Hebert introduced me to Track and running became an outlet throughout my life.” Leighton went on to laugh a little as she admitted that her Track Records still hold a place in the Vista gymnasium.
Her records may be hanging around in the gymnasium but Leighton spread her wings as soon as she graduated from Ferndale High School. According to Heather, the future started with a commitment to taking the first step, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to start. I applied for and received the Gates Foundation Millennium Scholarship in the first year of scholarship funding. This allowed me to finish my 2-year degree before graduating with my BA and Teaching Certificate from the WSU partnership program Oksala.”
Heather went on to earn two Masters Degrees. Her first, a Masters in Reading & Literacy and a second in Educational Leadership.
Heather spent time teaching in Mt. Vernon and Lynden before answering the call to come home and lead Lummi Nation School as Principal. According to Heather, her work was to lead her staff and motivate students to reach for their best futures. She did this work for nine years before accepting the position as Principal at Vista Middle School.
Heather says, “My mom always says that you end up where you are supposed to be. I believe that. I believe that I was able to make the choice to be here in Ferndale because my Grandma paved the way for that dream.”