- Maize Unified School District 266
Taking the plunge
Growing up as a Maize USD 266 student and the daughter of two former teachers who left legacies, Shea Poynter was told by her teachers that she would follow in the footsteps of her parents, A.C., who retired in 2021 with 36 years of teaching at Maize, and Shelley Poynter, a former Maize physical education teacher. Instead, Shea swam a different path.
Throughout her childhood and teen years, Shea discovered her passion for aquatics through the help of her late mom, who devoted 27 years of her career to the district. As a child, Shea was always in and out of the water, witnessing her mom teach swim lessons every summer in the neighborhood pool. When Shea reached middle school, her mom let her start helping, and at 18, Shea took over the business while also working as a lifeguard at Eberly Farms. Through these experiences, her love for the water only deepened.
After her graduation from Kansas State University with a degree in Family Studies and Human Services, she packed her bags and moved to Orlando, Florida. She started her lifeguarding career at Disney's Blizzard Beach and then helped open Volcano Bay for Universal Studios in 2017.
“I was content in my role at Universal Studios,” Shea said. “I enjoyed getting the experience training and certifying lifeguards for the water park. You also cannot beat the opportunity to swim year-round.”
While living in the sunny state of Florida, Shea heard whispers from her family that the Maize Performing Arts and Aquatics Center was a potential project the district was considering. But she never thought it would happen. Then, the $108.2 million bond issue passed in 2019.
“As a former student at Maize, we barely had a swim team when I was in high school,” Shea said. “I never expected this building to happen.”
When COVID struck and construction began on the Maize Performing Arts and Aquatics Center (MPAAC), Shea thought this may be her only ticket back home to Maize, knowing if she did not leave then, she probably never would.
Now, she serves as the Aquatics Facility Operator for the Maize Performing Arts and Aquatics Center, located at Academy Avenue and 119th Street in Maize. The center’s pool and auditorium serves students throughout Maize USD 266. In some ways, she feels like she is fulfilling the expectations that teachers had all those years ago.
“It’s crazy to me that I am working in the Maize district,” Shea said. “I did not want to be what everyone expected of me years ago. Now I am back in my home district doing something I love and still be in the aquatics world.”
Maize South High School speech and English teacher Teri Larson taught Shea as a high school student. Being a good friend of her mom’s, Teri said she always had an idea Shea would be back in Maize in some capacity.
“In all my years of teaching and coaching, I never met a more positive and inspirational person,” Larson said of Shea. “She was a coach on the court, a cheerleader on the sidelines, and a role model for all. I’ve known Shea since she was born. She’s a remarkable young woman, and the Maize community is lucky to have her back home!”
Shea is not the only person who returned to Maize and is continuing the family’s legacy. Her brother, T.C. Poynter, is completing his first year at Maize South Elementary School.
As Shea continues to get her feet wet in her new role, she said she looks forward to finding more ways OneMa1ze can enjoy the facility. Her ideas include swim lessons, physical education courses, lifeguard training for Maize Career Academy students, and teaching students the importance of water safety.
From the pool to the stage, the new center will provide for the OneMa1ze community in ways that were not possible before. Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Operations Richard Bell has played a critical role in the development of MPAAC and said he is excited to see the potential use of the building come to life.
“This facility provides much-needed performance space for our students as well as the premier aquatics facility in our area,” Bell said. “This spring, the building will be full of visitors attending swim meets and music concerts. Once we are comfortable with the operations of the facility, we will expand utilization to include additional opportunities for students, staff, and community.”
While the center provides broader opportunities for OneMa1ze, it also provided the link for Shea between her career and her roots back home.
“This facility is the best I can get to still be in aquatics and away from Orlando,” Shea said. “I am excited to bring my passion for the water to the district and expand on all the options this facility offers.”
When she started as the Facility Operator, she joked that she was given a hard hat and a key, as it was still an active construction site. Her day-to-day tasks include ensuring that no alarms are flashing in the pump room, scrubbing stainless steel to keep it looking new and shiny, checking water levels, and pitching in during swim practices.
“Not many facilities have the capability for both divers and swimmers to practice together,” Shea said. “On the boys’ first day of practice, I got to watch their eyes light up and realize that this facility is theirs.”
With her time in the aquatics world coming full circle, Shea cannot help but reflect on her passion for the water and where it all started: The neighborhood pool learning from her mom.
“My mom would be blown away by this facility,” Shea said. “Having taught in Maize and swim lessons in the community, she would not believe this was here for students to use. I am excited to teach these kids water safety and show them that water is not scary but fun, just like she did with me. I get to carry on her legacy.
The Maize Education Foundation administers the Shelley Woodard Poynter Memorial Scholarship. Please click here to learn more about the fund and/or to make a donation to support it.