Conversation with Lafayette Elementary’s new principal: ‘Making a commitment to be there for the long haul’

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Robert Gallagher knows what he’s walking into as the next principal of Lafayette Elementary:

“I’m making a commitment to be there for the long haul,” he vows.

In a conversation with WSB this week, days after his appointment was announced last Friday, he said he’s well aware of hurt feelings at the school, following two years of changes since Lafayette’s seven-year principal Virginia Turner moved on.

Disappointment was a mild word for what some voiced after Shauna Heath got this school year off to a promising, high-energy start and then was whisked away just three months later for a districtwide management job.

An interim principal took over – and then, last week, the news came straight from the top: Superintendent José Banda announced that a veteran educator from outside the district would come in to lead Lafayette after this school year.

Gallagher has spent the past two years as principal of a K-8 Catholic school, St. Anthony’s in Renton. So why leave? Describing himself as “a product of public schools,” he says he’s drawn to the Seattle district by “innovative thinking” – including the district having taken a chance on an all-STEM elementary – and feels he can be of value with “a lot of experience and background as a principal … I’ve been a principal for 13 years.” That has included experiences running schools with varying combinations of grade levels, including middle and high school, but he says elementary school is “really where my calling is.”

His priority: Relationship-building, including teachers, students, parents, and the rest of the school community: “One of the things that the district is really clear about, is (to have) someone who’s going to give the school the longevity it needs.”

He met with the Lafayette staff last Friday, the same day his appointment was announced. “They seem like a very dedicated, caring group of professionals,” he observed, also making note of the school’s academic achievements, while adding, “Of course there’s always room for growth. I’ll be working with the staff and the parent community at large to figure out what goals and objectives we want to set.”

Gallagher insists he’s not coming in with “preconceived notions.” He does have some particular interests, “things like technology … I’m very much a technocrat. (And) my teaching background is in theater – I love the arts … blending both sides of the hemisphere of the brain.”

We asked about his view of gifted-education programs, since the Spectrum program has longtime roots at Lafayette. “I think it’s a good thing to have,” Gallagher said, noting that he was impressed by the program’s teachers as well as other Lafayette staffers, and was “looking forward to working with everybody.”

In particular, he says he’s also “really looking forward to interacting with the parent community and the community at large … establishing positive rapport … honoring where we’ve been, and building for the future.”

He says a chance for him to meet more of the community is in the works for sometime this month, so that he doesn’t have to wait till Lafayette’s next PTA meeting to do that. (No date that we’ve heard yet, but we’ll publish an update when we find out.)

Though he has no previous connections to West Seattle, he does have friends here including Holy Rosary School’s outgoing principal Michael Cantu, who Gallagher says took him on “a walkabout” to give him some WS tips, including restaurants and shops.

He had already visited the campus three times by the time we spoke earlier this week, and is aware of Lafayette’s space challenges, and says he has experience at schools where every square inch seems to be in use, and then some: “At my current school, we are past the 100 percent utilization rate.”

He officially starts July 1st.

4 Replies to "Conversation with Lafayette Elementary's new principal: 'Making a commitment to be there for the long haul'"

  • Mary April 5, 2013 (2:20 pm)

    Welcome Mr. Gallagher, we’re looking forward to having you at our school!

  • RP April 5, 2013 (2:24 pm)

    As the mom of three Lafayette students, I’m so excited for the fresh start and look forward to many fruitful years as a school community! We have an amazing faculty and are thankful that they will have an advocate and supporter in the role of principal after a rough couple of years. Welcome, Principal Gallagher!

  • Gallagher April 15, 2013 (11:55 am)

    Which public schools did Mr. Gallagher (no relation to me) come from? I understand that he is from Edmonton, Alberta, where Catholic schools there are indeed “public” schools, funded by the Canadian government. I don’t entirely understand the context here.
    And if his last position was for 2 years in Renton, then what sort of longevity is he talking about?

  • Thompson April 25, 2013 (9:15 am)

    My concerns as well (not related) Gallagher.

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