Liana Appelt

Avenue Calgary’s 2014 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych

Age: 36

Job title: Principal, Calgary Board of Education

Why she’s a 2014 Top 40:

A community volunteer, doctoral student and tireless advocate for bilingual education, Appelt is fully committed to improving education in Calgary, which is why she’s Calgary’s youngest school principal.

Before the ink was dry on Liana Appelt’s Top 40 Under 40 nomination, it needed revising as one of her bona fides – being one of the Calgary Board of Education‘s youngest assistant principals – had to be replaced with the new title: CBE’s youngest principal. 

This past May, Appelt was handed the reins of the Eugene Coste Elementary, four years after it had closed in 2010, and was tasked with reopening the school as the new home of the CBE’s Spanish bilingual program. 

Complementing a rare occasion where a school has come back from closure, Appelt’s passion and leadership style might signal a long-awaited refreshing change in education. 

“Schools are there for the kids, not for the adults and not for the budgets,” she says. “It has to be about the kids.” 

Which isn’t to say Appelt is given to soft affirmations and hollow motivational poster-worthy platitudes. Her model is intensely pragmatic, business-sound and focused on measurable outcomes. It’s a focus she says she developed while working as program director for the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) One World Child Development Centre. 

From 2011 to 2013, she was assistant principal at Westgate Elementary, one of the largest schools in the system. It was there that she put a new twist on the three Rs and used relationships, reconnection and respect to champion a transformation in the school’s culture for the teachers and the students. 

All of this led to a 70-per cent increase in staff retention, which in turn led to a 13.2-per cent increase in Grade 3 students who received a “standard of excellence” on provincial achievement tests and a 9.7-per cent increase in those who received a “standard of excellence” on the English Language Arts exam.

Appelt’s positive influence is also at work with the next generation of educators, as an instructor at the University of Calgary. In one class, she invited parents to share with her first-year education students what they found frustrating about the education system. 

“[The university students] needed to see that teaching wasn’t about theories in their books – it has to be about people and relationships,” she says.

Appelt also volunteers by offering English classes and helping women adjust to life in Calgary at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, as well as helping to support Kids Help Phone. She was recently appointed as a Professional Standards Committee member for the Canadian Child Abuse Association.

But there is one person who perhaps holds the key to her limitless energy. 

“He’s worked so hard,” she says, not even attempting to contain her obvious pride in her 14-year-old son. “He’s an honour roll student at his school.” –Bruce Ramsay 

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