ILWACO - "I'll be very hands-on, very involved in what the students are doing," said Marc Simmons Tuesday morning, summing up his stance on inter-student relations heading into his first year as the principal at Ilwaco High School. Simmons plans to engage students more in order to ignite the flames or passion and interest in their learning process.
Simmons has spent most career teaching in the Federal Way area, had a year at an Idaho middle school prior to that, but otherwise all his experience has been at the high school level. Most recently he was an associate principal at Mountain View High School, near Vancouver, and left that job prior to the end of last school year for, what he says are personal reasons. He was hired in early July as the successor to Lisa Nelson, who left the district after a number of years, to work in the Adna School District. Simmons is also undergoing a doctorate program through Seattle Pacific University.
"I like the community," Simmons said of the Peninsula. "I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, so I'm kind of a Western Washington guy."
As far as his new job is concerned, Simmons said one of the attractive features for him was the current grade configuration at the school - seventh through 12th grade. Despite the fact that he has never worked in a set-up like this, he said he is aware of a number that have operated successfully over the years. He even has a folder full of examples of these sitting on his new desk.
"In my experience, an eighth-grader doesn't become a ninth-grader overnight, they get conditioned to do so," Simmons said. "The seventh- and eight grade kids need to see the older high school kids and the high school kids need to be more responsible and help raise up these younger kids."
One change that Simmons brings is a new approach to standardized testing. Whereas in the past, the entire curriculum at the high school - from math and reading down to P.E. - had WASL prep elements in everything. Simmons believes this may not be the best way.
"I like to think that WASL is just one indicator as to where students are," he said. "Focusing on the WASL is like focusing on a person's body temperature. I don't want to make sure that everyone is at a constant 98.6 degrees, I want to make sure everyone's healthy. And if they're not, one of the indicators would be the temperature. If it's just a WASL focus then I don't think we're serving kids well."
Simmons said that his main focus will be student engagement - which is also the focus of his doctorate.
"I want to make sure that a student is excited about being here. And if not, there is programs in the community I can get them into," said Simmons, who plans to start incorporating the community more through a possible mentorship or job shadow/study program.
"Around the world we see programs where by the time a student is a junior or senior in high school they are engaged in the community in not just trades but college pursuits. The only difference between a high school senior and a college freshman is three months often times, but they are two very different worlds."
One related area is the often maligned alternative school program at the high school. And while Simmons will not be the administrator at that building, he said he would like to see the same passion he is going for at the high school ignited under those students as well.
"One of my mantra's this year will be creativity, innovation and flexibility. I'm not interested in the status quo, I'm not interested in doing things the way they've been done, for traditions sake. I'm interested in doing things that best meet the needs of all students. There isn't a one-size-fits-all application. There's no one single program that's going to meet everyone's needs.
"I've seen kids in alternative school programs that are every bit as smart as all the other kids. The only difference is they aren't engaged for some reason. So my question is how can I engage those students?"
Simmons gives you the feeling that being a part of the students lives is an important thing to him. Expect a more hands-on approach to the principal's job this year.
"I can't go for very long without interacting with students," he said. "I've found that one of the most critical pieces is relationships. Everyone affiliated with the school has to be involved in the student's lives. I would say that I have to be the model of interaction and relationships with the students."
If he is successful with this plan, it should be immediately reflected in his goals for the year, including a 100 percent graduation rate.
"We may only have three or four dropouts per year, but that's three or four too many," he said. "Around the state, around the nation you might hear people say you just can't do that, well there's no reason we can't try."