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For new principal, Kentwood’s reputation stands out
Kentwood High School’s reputation for academic and athletic excellence attracted new principal John Kniseley to the school.
Kniseley, who grew up in Southern California before moving to Washington state with his family when he was in sixth grade, is a retired Navy officer who has worked in education in both Washington and California, most recently at Hazen High School.
“My dad was my high school principal, so I kind of had a background in education,” Kniseley said.
A graduate of South Whidbey High School, Kniseley attended the University of Southern California where he studied engineering and history and participated in the Navy’s ROTC program.
After graduating he served as a naval officer on a minesweeper based out of Tacoma and served two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf.
Upon completing his years of active duty service he served in the reserves for 22 years before retiring in 2009.
Kniseley earned his teaching credential at Western Washington University in math and social studies, an uncommon combination of endorsements that came from his studies in at USC.
“I just had so much math but I wasn’t going to be able to graduate in four years, and the Navy wanted me to still graduate in four years, so I switched to history,” Kniseley said.
For Kniseley, his dad’s influence was a large part of what drew him to working in schools, as was his love of sports.
“My dad was in education so I saw that modeled growing up and I was an athlete in high school and a little bit in college and I figured if I couldn’t play it I would coach it, so going into education — I loved teaching so being able to teach and coach was a good combination,” Kniseley said.
He has experience coaching baseball, football, and fastpitch. Kniseley also noted that as a student at South Whidbey he remembers playing against Kentwood at French Field the first year Kentwood was open.
Kniseley said he likes to spend his free time with his five kids and participating in their activities and interests. Kniseley has two adult children who are both in the military, one in high school, and two in grade school.
He also enjoys playing sports, and traveling — especially to see USC Trojan games.
His two favorite books are “Win Forever” by former USC coach Pete Carroll about his coaching philosophy and “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” by D. Michael Abrashoff.
After a stint as an assistant principal at Capistrano Valley High School in California, Kniseley returned to Washington state and worked in Vancouver before taking the position of principal at Hazen High School.
“Hazen was a great place, people do a lot of great things there, but I just wanted to be able to take my leadership style and take it to a bigger school and a larger administration team,” Kniseley said.
He described his leadership style as one focused on empowerment and sharing decision making.
“I just believe that, in that book “Good to Great,” they talk about putting the right people on the bus in the right seats, and I think that’s definitely how I do things,” Kniseley said. “I think some things, that’s not my passion or greatest strength, so if I can go find people that have those passions and have those strengths and put them in front of the staff, or get the staff involved in their own professional development — or whatever the topic may be — if I can get staff in front of other staff, colleagues leading colleagues, you just get more buy in by everybody.”
This year, Kniseley said, he plans to focus on the new teacher and principal evaluation program that is changing how educators are evaluated in the classroom and in the school and he will also focus on aligning curriculum.
“We’re focusing on…having a common academic language across the whole school so we can all talk the same talk,” Kniseley said.
Kniseley said he’s excited to get to know students, staff and the community and is looking forward to the school year.
“Our whole administrative staff turned over except for Shaun Martin, so we’re all new here and we all come from different places and have different lenses from where we’ve been, so I think that’s exciting,” Kniseley said.