CENTRAL KITSAP — Families and community members got the chance Feb. 21 to get to know the two finalists seeking to become the principal of Central Kitsap High School.
After a Central Kitsap School District committee narrowed the list to candidates Craig Johnson and Gail Danner, the public was invited to meet and greet them, ask the candidates questions and provide feedback to the superintendent of the district, who makes the final hiring decision.
“We continue to look for opportunities when we hire administrators to maximize the scope of what we consider,” said David McVicker, CKSD superintendent. “I just appreciate people taking the time to come and do that. We haven’t done it this way before. It’s a different process, so we’ll see how it works out for us. I’m happy with what I saw tonight.”
Each candidate addressed the group individually, with the other candidate waiting outside the CKHS library, where the meet and greet was held. Johnson spoke to the group first, followed by Danner.
At the end of the event, district officials said they hoped to have a final decision made by end of the day Feb. 24.
Before opening the floor to questions, the candidates had the opportunity to introduce themselves.
Johnson said he grew up in Kitsap County and graduated from Olympic High School in the mid-90s. He currently is an assistant principal at CKHS.
“It’s a wonderful building,” Johnson said of Central Kitsap High. “The building itself has a little work to do, but it’s the people that make the building, and I think it’s absolutely a fantastic place to be and to work. I think what the students accomplish here — I’m impressed every day. I’m excited about the opportunities in front of us based on where we are, where we’re going in the next couple years. I’m excited. I think this school has a lot of potential.”
Danner, who also grew up in Washington, is the other assistant principal at CKHS.
“Every family has hopes that their children will be well prepared to go on into the future,” Danner said. “When I think about (that), I get very excited about the future, about being able to continue to serve our students’ hopes and dreams. As a principal, I really feel like I have the opportunity to be the greatest servant of our students’ hopes and dreams and their families.”
The candidates were each asked questions from community members. Below are some of the highlights:
How do you deal with student conflict?
Johnson: “I would sit down (and) seek to understand, first of all. Let’s have a conversation with the student who has the concern. Let’s talk about what their concerns are, and then we get to address those … Really, seek to understand is the first thing we do. We look at what our school board policies are in relation to student safety on our campuses. I would like for that student to feel like they’re heard. Sometimes we include a counselor, sometimes we include a teacher that they trust. Do they have a relationship with that student? Do they know who they are? It would be really helpful to get a full picture. The skills that students learn to collaborate with each other and seek to understand and know each other are pretty critical as they leave here and they go out into the community, where they’re going to be asked lots of questions like that and be in lots of scenarios where they’re going to have to work the problem on their own.”
Danner: “We have some protocols we use for student conflict, and one of them is again bringing the parties in and really listening to what the situation is. The other piece of that is asking the students what kind of a solution they want in the end. That’s always one of my guiding questions. What would be a perfect win for you in this situation? I think if we start with where we would like to go, we can kind of charter a path to get there … (After working through the issue,) an important piece of that in my work is the ‘re-check.’ So if we have a conflict and we worked through it, the after part is, after a week or two, I call them back in and say, ‘This was an issue for you a couple weeks ago. How is it going?’ I feel like that’s really validating for the students.”
How will your skill set transfer to being principal of CKHS?
Johnson: “I think I’m patient enough to go through the bumps along the way to support this crew of teachers, staff and parents so that they can get to where they need to be. I can provide my eyes and my ears and my perspective and my work ethic to make sure that we’re making progress toward their goals, this year and every year.”
Danner: “I really feel like, the experience of having been here for eight years, has really given me a real sense of where we are and really a starting place from where we need to go. I know about the dedication and professionalism of our staff. I truly believe we’ve got the ability to continue to work together.”
What kind of culture would you like to see at CKHS, and how will you make those changes?
Johnson: “I would like to see more inclusivity. I’d like to see the participation in some of our extracurricular activities increase. I’d like to see more students taking risks to try things that they are passionate about but maybe haven’t had the opportunity to try before. Most students will perform academically better when they have a connection to the building beyond just the classroom.
“(To make those changes) you get in the weeds. Get out of the office, sit in the classrooms. Listen to students. If there’s a club or an idea that they’re interested in, how do we work with them to make it happen? When I meet with students and they have an idea, I’m always looking for reasons to say yes, I’m not looking for reasons to say this is not a good idea. Let’s figure out how to make it work.”
Danner: “One is the personal guidance that we try to give each student about how to be their own best self, about how we are individually when we are in community with other people. We provide that guidance and modeling with each individual, so those kind of soft skills, we also call them character, integrity … compassion, thoughtfulness, outreach … The other part of that is sort of institutionally what we do when we’re together … and for everyone to be able to grab their dream, to be here and feel safe, to be here and not have to look over their shoulder, to be here and be with their friends and get their education in a comfortable, welcoming place. We really take the importance of climate and culture very seriously here, and we continue to try and improve.
“Personally, I would look at every dealing I have with every person. I model that, and I expect it from the staff. That’s the personal piece. From the system’s perspective, I believe that there’s things from a leadership position that we can do to foster that … I really think from a leadership perspective, how you do big tasks and little tasks systemically can really foster that, and I think that when you look through that lens, you can certainly make decisions about how we are doing together, what we’re going to do, (etc.).”
What does a good day look like to you?
Johnson: A good day for me means I was successful and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the office. I had a good opportunity to get out, be in the halls, be in the cafeteria at lunches, (and) had the opportunity to see what they’re doing in the student store (and) what they’re doing in several classrooms, see what they’re up to. There are really exciting things happening in a lot of our classrooms. To be able to see that … to see what kids are coming up with, you don’t see that when you’re sitting in the office.”
Danner: “For me, a great day is being out in the halls … It contains seeing people in the classrooms, watching instruction happen. A great day is also when I feel like I made a difference for a person. Whatever I can do to help. And sometimes it’s just listen, and sometimes they don’t want a solution. I love it when there are activities and things to go to, because I really feel like the benefit (of this school) is the variety of things we do. There are no two days that are alike, and that’s what I absolutely love about it, because you can serve in so many different ways, and there is always something to consider.”
What does a bad day look like to you?
Johnson: “Sometimes we have conflict here with as many people as we have, and sometimes students don’t make the best decisions for themselves. So when we get into an investigation, or there’s a behavior issue that causes a disruption … I don’t enjoy that. It’s not fun. But what I do is I then take the opportunity to … find out what happened, what made them make these decisions and let’s help them make better decisions.”
Danner: “I think that the hardest things for me are the ones where I know that there was been a tragedy for one of our community members. It is never easy to walk that journey together, but it is also really important work to do. So even though it’s not my favorite day and it’s always really difficult, when (we) can wrap our arms around a student or a community member or one of our own staff members and help them through a difficult time, I think it really brings out the opportunity to bring out the best of us. But I’m always really glad when (those days) are over. Those are really hard for me, personally.”
Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.