A newlywed waiting to board a plane for her honeymoon destination, Alissa Putnam sits back, soaking it all in after being approved as Kae Avenue Elementary School's new principal.

A newlywed waiting to board a plane for her honeymoon destination, Alissa Putnam sits back, soaking it all in after being approved as Kae Avenue Elementary School's new principal.

"I'm just a farm girl from Ross County," she said.

Though the challenge of leading an urban school might have been the initial draw for the former dairy farmer, a sense of family and community sealed the deal for her, she said.

"There is a real family feel to this place," she said. "I left after my first interview, thinking, 'I want to be a part of this community.' That's the honest truth."

Born and raised on a dairy farm of about 250 cows in Ross County, Putnam was unsure of her future. She knew dairy farming was not for her, but beyond that, the sky was the limit. She entered the Air Force Academy right out of high school but soon determined that was not her cup of tea.

She also traveled a bit before entering college but still was unsure of her major.

"I think my mother knew what I was going to do before I did," she said. "She sort of convinced me to go into education, and she was absolutely right. It became very obvious once I started on that path in college that it was what I wanted to do."

After earning both her undergraduate and master's degrees from Ohio University, Putnam went on to teach for several years in the Chillicothe City School District. The elementary school where she spent most of her time was similar to Kae Avenue, she said.

"So it feels like I'm going back to where I started," she said. "I'm kind of coming home."

After earning her administrative license, she went on to serve as assistant principal at both the elementary and middle schools in the Westfall Local School District in Pickaway County.

She knows taking on her new position at Kae Avenue comes with its own challenges, she said, but she looks forward to them.

"Student achievement is the biggie," she said. "We need to step it up."

Last year, Kae Avenue was the only school in Whitehall to receive an "academic watch" rating on its state report card. This year's report won't be finalized until late August.

To address student achievement, Putnam said, she will need to get to know the school's staff, parents and students, as well as current data.

"Before we do anything, I need to have a good understanding of what we're working with ... what our needs are, what our strengths are, and I think the best way to do that is starting by building those relationships."

Just before heading out for her honeymoon, Putnam asked Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy for access to the school's achievement data so she could get a feel for her starting point.

"I'm going to hit the ground running. There is no time to waste," she said.

Putnam's position was approved unanimously by the Whitehall school board during a special meeting July 9. Her annual salary will be $80,679. Her total benefits package, including salary, medical insurances and retirement, is $116,556 annually.