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Get to Know Board Member Katie Pottroff
December 15, 2021 - While searching YouTube for a movie her children would enjoy, Katie Pottroff was delighted to find a 1986 animated film featuring her favorite childhood superhero— She-Ra: Princess of Power. This character can deflect energy beams and lift heavy robots, but she’s also a healer who can empathize with others. Perhaps in another universe, she would be an amazing school board director.
In the real world, Pottroff has demonstrated inner strengths that others might consider extraordinary. Several years ago, she and her family lived in Illinois and were seeking special services for their young son, Tommy. The school district where they lived was not prepared to educate a child like him, whose diagnoses included autism and bipolar disorder.
Her mother-in-law, a school secretary in Parkway, offered the couple some sage advice: Move to St. Louis County where Tommy could get the supports he needed from Special School District. The Pottroffs soon purchased a home in the Parkway School District and enrolled their son at Litzsinger School when he was starting second grade. The experience there was positive and gave Katie a window into the lives of families with children with special needs. Today, Tommy attends Neuwoehner High School and is doing well.
In 2019, Pottroff took her advocacy for special needs students to a higher level and sought a directorship on the SSD Board of Education. She was selected by the Governing Board to represent Subdistrict 3 (Parkway School District), where she and her family live. Last year, she became the Board’s vice president. She says the position has provided a valuable point-of-view on education issues that affect all students and staff in SSD.
While the instinct to lead is in her character, her inspiration to pursue Board membership came from someone else.
“That would be 100% Tommy,” she says. “In our former school district, finding helpful schooling for him was nearly impossible— people almost need a lawyer on retainer to be their advocate. I wanted to be on the SSD Board to get that point-of-view. I wanted to be in a position that allowed me to support him and other students with special needs.
“But Litzsinger was wonderful, like a big family. Moving to high school this year has been a process of slowly getting to know the staff and them getting to know him. We’re all just finding our groove.”
Who’s in the Pottroff family?
I’m a stay-at-home mom. In addition to serving on the SSD Board, I’m a Girl Scout troop and neighborhood leader and school volunteer. My husband and I have Tommy, who is a freshman at Neuwoehner, and our daughter, Maggie, who is in sixth grade at Parkway West Middle. And we have a dog, Mary, who is a German shepherd mix. My husband, Chris, works in IT at Mastercard.
What do you think is your greatest accomplishment (so far) in life?
My family— I know it sounds corny! But the past 14 years have not been easy. We’ve come through on the other side, though we’ve had our scary moments. But here we are— we’re all still standing and we still love each other.
Who has been a big influence in your life?
Maya Angelou. When I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in seventh grade, it changed my life. She said something I’ll always remember: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” That’s an amazing philosophy to live by! It’s all about love and treating everyone with respect and kindness. And that includes treating yourself the same way. Just keep doing the best you can.
What keeps you awake at night?
I think about what adulthood for Tommy looks like. I worry about that for my daughter, too, but not as much as I do for Tommy. What employment opportunities will he have, where will he live— all that stuff.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Watch movies! I was a theater major in college. I take my kids to movie theaters. Tommy’s first movie might have been “Frozen.” We love the family-friendly movies at our local theater with dimmed lights— it doesn’t matter if your kid is making noise because every kid is making noise. We like to go to the 10 a.m. showing on Saturday. Of course, not all movies are for kids, but we’ve recently enjoyed “Ghostbusters” and “Spiderman.”
Name one of your favorite books and tell us why it’s a favorite.
One of my favorites is “Prodigal Summer,” by Barbara Kingsolver. She’s so good!
What kind of music do you like to hear or play?
Classic rock. I also like music from the 1960s-70s.
Describe your favorite meal or side dish.
Mashed potatoes! I prefer just butter and salt on mine… let the potato shine!
If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would it be?
I’d go to New York! I’d love to spend a week seeing shows. I tried to be an actor in college and was told I was very loud, but I couldn’t act. So I started working on sets. I was a carpenter and props master—I helped create anything on stage that isn’t the walls or the floor. I earned a BFA in technical theater at Illinois Wesleyan University. I also met my husband working in summer stock productions at the Timber Lake Playhouse (near Mount Carroll, Ill.).
Why is She-Ra your favorite superhero?
She’s awesome! I never got into the Marvel or DC world like my son did. She had her own flying horse, Swifty, plus she was friends with all the woodland creatures. She could change her persona from Princess Adora into She-Ra. Plus, none of the bad guys ever died— they just went home crying.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d have more patience. I’m not a good waiter.