Dawn Hellebusch

The new director of the Washington School District’s Early Learning Center will be Dawn Hellebusch, who currently serves as principal of Clearview Elementary.

The school board Wednesday night approved Hellebusch’s appointment and heard a detailed report on how the center will operate, including programming and tuition rates.

The 25,000-square-foot center is currently under construction on the Washington West Elementary campus, and will open at the start of the new school year.

The center will combine three programs under one roof — early childhood special education, Parents as Teachers and all of the in-town preschools.

Hellebusch has been with the Washington School District for 16 years. She started as a fifth-grade teacher at South Point Elementary and then became principal at Marthasvillle and Augusta elementary schools before moving to Clearview Elementary eight years ago.

“The new Early Learning Center will be a fantastic addition to our district and community,” Hellebusch told The Missourian.

“I am looking forward to working with the Early Learning Center staff, families and administration to provide an environment where early learners can thrive academically, socially and emotionally, and exit the program kindergarten-ready,” she said.

Hellebusch said the opportunity to combine and build on the district’s early learning programs will provide additional opportunities to best meet the needs of students and families.

The district interviewed four candidates last week for the new Early Learning Center (ELC) director position.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon said Hellebush was the unanimous choice of the interview committee.

“Dawn has been with the district for a long time and has worked in a variety of schools,” noted Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer. “She has the certification and experience in early childhood, including working with a special education population, which all lends itself to this new role.

“She understands the complexities of the different programs and has demonstrated herself to be an instructional leader so we think she is a great fit.”

VanLeer also noted that Clearivew Elementary was named a Gold Star School under Hellebusch’s leadership.

With Hellebusch moving to the Early Learning Center at the end of the school year, the district will launch a search for a new principal.

Hellebusch earned her undergraduate degree in early childhood education from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a master’s degree in educational administration from Southwest Baptist University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Saint Louis University.


Mahon told the board Wednesday night that construction of the center is on schedule. The board also had the opportunity to look at the building layout, and samples of flooring, tile and other materials to be used in the building.

The building will house 13 classrooms in total, including infant/toddler, 2-year-old, preschool and early childhood special education rooms, the Parents as Teachers office and meeting rooms, and a multipurpose room for group meetings and presentations.

Lawlor Corporation is the general contractor for the $4.1 million project, which is being financed through a $9 million bond issue approved this past April.