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Three new assistant principals for Kentwood
A trio of new assistant principals passionate about education and helping students from diverse backgrounds thrive are settling into their roles at Kentwood High School this fall.
Taking up the post of overseeing ninth graders is Michael Robinson. Education is a second career for Robinson, who spent 17 years in the Navy as a search and rescue swimmer.
“When I got out I wanted to teach and they had something called Troops to Teachers in the military and unfortunately I qualified but they didn’t have any money left in the program so I went into banking for like a year and then stopped doing that job and did a different job that opened up in the day time so I could go to school,” Robinson said. “So I took a student loan and went to school at City University and got my master’s in education.”
Robinson grew up in the Seattle area and went to Lincoln High School, a now closed school in Seattle Public Schools. He then attended St. Mary’s College in Maryland where he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics.
After earning his master’s, Robinson taught math and science for seven years before making the transition to school administration.
“I started looking at is as an opportunity to expand out of the classroom and be able to teach and impact kids on a larger level,” Robinson said.
Prior to Kentwood, Robinson was working at Centennial Middle School in the West Valley School District in the Spokane Valley.
“I liked what Kent as a school district was doing, especially with laptops and technology and removing a lot of barriers for kids who might not be able to have that,” Robinson said of what drew him to Kent. “It enables them to be able to have learning extend beyond the school day for the kids—so that intrigued me. And it just so happened that Kentwood had an opening and in doing the research on Kentwood I saw their scores were good so it looked like a very good opportunity. Not only were their scores good but they had a very diverse population.”
This year Robinson said he’ll be focusing on the ninth graders’ transition to high school.
“Ninth grade is a big year where a lot of kids drop out or struggle,” Robinson said. “So we want to be making sure the transition is smoother. We started that and I got to watch it jump start something that was in place before I got here.”
Overseeing sophomores this year is Karen Harrington who came to education as a third career after spending eight years in the military and spending time working in the restaurant industry.
Born in Salem, Ore., Harrington grew up all over the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, and attended Kansas State University through the Army ROTC program, where she earned a degree in social science.
After finishing her time in the military, Harrington moved back to the Pacific Northwest to be near family and friends, and started working in the restaurant business.
“I worked in the restaurant industry, training managers in various restaurants and then decided to give back, to go into education and go into the business side of education,” Harrington said.
She earned her master’s degree in business education from Central Washington University and taught at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle for 10 years.
“I did a variety of things there (at Rainier Beach),” Harrington said. “Everything that you could think of possibly doing in a school, I did. We started a service learning program in Seattle that, today, is still a part of graduation. Through that—our program at Rainier Beach High School—John Stanford, who was the superintendent at the time, looked at our program and said, ‘this is something we need to do district-wide.’ We were very, very proud of our service learning program. We had students do between 6-8,000 of volunteer service out in the community.”
Classes Harrington taught included web design, marketing, computer applications, and applied communication.
The next step for Harrington was earning her administrative credential and then accepting a job as an assistant principal at Wapato High School in the Wapato School District near Yakima. She then worked as a principal at Wapato Middle School before coming to Kentwood.
“I decided to move back to Western Washington because this is where my family is and my support system and friends and everything,” Harrington said. “I just love being here. The Kent school district is so supportive of the whole educational system and I really appreciate what I’ve seen so far.”
Harrington said what drew her to education was the idea of helping students be prepared for their futures as well as the professional development that education offers.
“One thing led to another and there was an ad in the newspaper, in the Tacoma Tribune, about Central Washington and the business education degree and what you could do with that and I just said, ‘Wow, this is really right up my alley,” Harrington said. “And so that’s what kind of started it. I loved my time at Rainier Beach High School and my time with students there. Loved my time out on the the Yakima reservation…all of that is where I’m at now. It really does come together, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
In her spare time, Harrington said she likes to spend time with her family, read, keep up on what is happening in education, and—when she has the time—enjoys a round of golf.
For Harrington the diversity of Kent was what drew her to the district.
“The spirit of this school and the Kent School district has 130 languages, maybe more than that, and I feel like all the experience I have—the multicultural, social economic, and ethnicities and (with) all of that experience I could really help the Kent School District, so that’s what really drew me to Kent,” Harrington said. “I really want to give back to our community…I really want all of our students to be successful and I’ll do whatever it takes to help our students succeed here at Kentwood.”
Overseeing juniors this year is Jay Hirst who has a background in working with special education students and a passion for scuba diving.
Hirst grew up on a ranch in Eastern Washington and put himself through college by working as a wildland firefighter. He earned his bachelors degree in special education with a minor in criminal justice from Central Washington University.
“I ended up taking a course, introduction to special education,” Hirst said of how he got interested in education. “Great professor. (I was) fascinated by the subject so that was where I decided to get my degree.”
Hirst said that his interest in helping students came from an experience he had in high school where a paraeducator helped him and he then wanted to help other students.
“I was really struggling with algebra, I wasn’t getting it, so my teacher decided it would be the best thing if he put me and another student in a room with a paraprofessional that had no background in Algebra so we could teach ourselves,” Hirst said. “She (the paraeducator) said, ‘this isn’t right’ and advocated for us and all that. There’s this whole set of students out there that are bright and motivated yet we don’t do a great job of supporting them. And if it hadn’t been for that—we called them teacher’s aide’s then—that paraprofessional I might not have ever made it through high school. So that was toward education and special education...I felt that was a real way to help students that needed that additional support.”
Hirst taught for four years, working with at-risk and special education students before deciding to make the jump to administration.
“I worked for a principal that gave me lots of leadership opportunities and encouraged me to go along that direction,” Hirst said. “So it started out as the department head and certain committees and went from there.”
He earned his masters in administration and curriculum development at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
Hirst and his wife spent ten years living in northern Virginia for her job with Boeing but couldn’t stay away from the Pacific Northwest.
“Northern Virginia was fascinating,” Hirst said. “We enjoyed the East coast but obviously the West coast is home and when the opportunity came, came back.”
Before coming to Kentwood, Hirst spent a year working at the Kent School District district office as the assistant director for special education.
In his spare time, Hirst said he likes to work on the piece of property he and his wife own where they adopt animals including horses, lamas, alpacas, chickens, dogs and cats. He also enjoys fishing and scuba diving.
“I’m a pretty avid scuba diver, I’ve done almost 1,500 dives and have dived all over the East coast and different parts of the world,” Hirst said.
His favorite place to dive is Bonaire, an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela, which he has been to 12 times.
“When we were on the east coast, we had friends who dove down there and we went with them and it became a family thing,” Hirst explained. “So we would go down at least once a summer and we had a group of friends, and our children were all about the same age, and we’d go down there. So there were like 40 of us going down there with our families, and we just continue it.”
Hirst said that what drew him to Kentwood was having the chance to be back in a school and get to work with the students.
“What I found was I really missed working in the building, I really missed working with children and working with kids, that’s where my passion was,” Hirst said. “So the opportunity came up and I applied and I was lucky enough to get the job.”