By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
By the time Chris Kinsey had a few minutes to talk with WSB about his new job as Chief Sealth International High School‘s interim principal, he was in the eighth straight hectic hour since the announcement was made this morning.
He’s already started meeting with the people he’ll need to work most closely with. Just before our early-evening conversation, in fact, Kinsey said, he had just been in a late-afternoon meeting with Jeff Clark, principal of Denny International Middle School, which is weeks away from its first year sharing a campus with Chief Sealth. Kinsey says he’s known Clark for “a few years now,” since he has some background in Seattle Public Schools‘ middle-school system.
For the past three years, he’s been an assistant principal at Cleveland High School – also a school that’s been operating in a new, unconventional format. It’s focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The STEM launch is the accomplishment of which Kinsey is proudest, so far:
“It really came from the ground up, from the walls of Cleveland. Our teachers had a lot of input into the design, with some direction by the school district, but it grew organically.” Cleveland now runs as two schools, the School of Life Sciences and the School of Engineering and Design, and he thinks the “bumps” he helped work through will prove to have been instructive for working through what lies ahead for his new school and its new neighbor.
Some of his background was in the morning “letter from the superintendent” announcement of his appointment. What it doesn’t mention: No, he’s not a West Seattleite; he lives in Ballard. He started teaching in 1999 (7th-grade language arts, for the record), but that wasn’t directly out of college – “I had a few odd jobs (first),” he says, including working in the Bethel School District as a “security specialist.” His background in both middle- and high-school education, Kinsey says, will be a plus as he leads Sealth in this first year of co-location with Denny. It’s an “incredible opportunity” to “create a 6th-through-12th-grade pathway,” he believes.
He’s also quick to offer high praise for what outgoing Sealth principal John Boyd and his team have done, “amazing work” – including the International Baccalaureate program, which has made Sealth even more of a draw. About the challenges of managing a school that has both a prestigious program like IB and a “low-achieving” designation, he says, “Whether IB or the regular program, we cannot fail kids – we have to provide them the best teaching opportunities so they can be successful. There’s going to be a time when they leave the academic world and venture into the world outside – they need to be well-prepared, with high-quality instruction for all the kids. When you address that and school culture and climate, it naturally leads to improvement.”
So what’s in the works for introducing Kinsey to the Chief Sealth community? The next two days, he says, all SPS assistant principals and principals are in a “school leaders’ retreat.” Then on Thursday, he will meet with his Sealth predecessor, John Boyd. “At the same time, I have to transition out of Cleveland,” Kinsey notes. “I’m looking at being at Sealth fulltime as of August 15th.”
From there, in conjunction with West Seattle executive director of schools Aurora Lora – his immediate supervisor – and Chief Sealth’s activities director (among other roles) Sam Reed, Kinsey says he’ll “set up some community meetings and some office hours. Part of my job right now is to have the biggest ear in the world and listen to the community, listen to the teachers, listen to the students, learn from them.”
That’ll be one busy ear … the first day of school, September 7th, is now less than a month away.