Principal’s honor mirrors Mariner’s achievements
Here’s a view critics of public education may find hard to swallow: Students today are smarter than yesteryear’s crops.
“They have to be,” Mariner High School Principal Brent Kline said. “They’re working harder, achieving more, so I think they’re smarter.”
Noting his generation wasn’t required to pass statewide achievement tests in order to graduate, Kline said, “There’s more at stake now.”
Kline himself can take some of the credit for Mariner students’ meteoric improvements in reading, writing and math scores. His peers thought as much recently when he was named the WESCO 3A/4A Conference Principal of the Year for 2012.
In his 10th year at the helm, Kline is the longest serving principal at Mariner since it opened in 1970.
His path to the post began when he and his wife moved to Washington 18 years ago so that she could enroll at the Cornish College of the Arts.
Kline first worked as a substitute teacher, then – a trombonist himself – he became a choir and orchestra teacher at Olympic View Middle School before moving to Mariner to become the school’s band director.
Interested in new challenges, he earned his master’s degree at Western, along with an administrative certificate, and landed a full-time internship at Mariner.
That evolved into a two-year stint as the assistant principal, followed by his appointment to the school’s top post.
He recalls that period as “chaos.”
“I never want to relive those days,” he said. “I thought it was all about this principal guy.
But it’s not about me. It was never about me. I thought it was…”
A quick study, Kline figured out that leading Mariner meant the focus had to be on the students and staff.
“I’ve shifted, and it’s huge. Back then, maybe I was a little uptight, pent up,” he said. “My motto now is ‘work hard, be nice.’”
The “be nice” part is easy. Kline doesn’t spend much time in his office; he’s out in the hallways, interacting with students and staff.
“I’m enjoying the heart, soul, laughter, uniqueness and intelligence these kids bring to school every single day,” he said.
But it’s the hard work that’s showing the most impressive results.
When Kline became principal, he and staff developed the school motto that launched Mariner on its trajectory to success: “Literacy is Power and Freedom.”
The school hired three reading teachers to work with low achievers, and staff professional development was implemented on reading across the curriculum.
Every day, students and staff pause for 20 minutes of sustained silent reading.
Alison Brynelson, Executive Director of Secondary Schools, in nominating Kline for WESCO’s Principal of the Year, told judges that Mariner’s literacy focus over 10 years has increased students’ achievement in reading from 52 percent to 79.5 percent.
In addition, Brynelson said, students meeting the state’s standard in writing rose from 55 to 89 percent and, following increased focus on math, students meeting standard rose from 28 percent 10 years ago to 75 percent last year.
The focus hasn’t just been on students, either, she said.
“Mr. Kline’s leadership has led to Mariner being a true community of learners,” Brynelson said.
All teachers work on effective teaching and learning strategies, emphasizing collaboration across the curricula, and participate in on-going observations of colleagues’ best practices.
“This change in practice has been one of Mr. Kline’s most outstanding accomplishments as a high school principal,” Brynelson said.
Kline insists it’s the teachers and students who deserve most of the credit for Mariner’s success.
“The teachers are tireless in what they provide and achieve,” he said.
A visitor after school would find many teachers still in their classrooms, working with students, he said.
And the students overcome a range of challenges outside the classroom, making their academic success all the more remarkable.
The poverty level in south Snohomish County is 65 percent; there is a high mobility rate as well. (About 400 students enroll and withdraw annually at Mariner.)
Kline said students contribute to food and clothing drives, even though they too may not know where their next meal, or winter coat, is coming from.
“It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “Mariner sometimes has to work to overcome perceptions that aren’t true.”
Also beyond the academics are the relationships that build among students and staff.
In fact, “it’s all about relationships,” Kline said. “As an educator, for me it’s really caring about that individual.”
When educators take the time to talk with students outside of the classroom on issues that have nothing to do with school, they’re helping to free those students of some of the burdens they carry.
“The essence of education is to really care and show you care,” Kline said.
And that caring, nurturing atmosphere helps build a culture of tolerance and excitement that opens academic doors for young people who otherwise would have few options.
Outsiders see it, too.
Carol Coe, the Social Studies Program Supervisor for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, visited Mariner in October and later told Mukilteo district educators, “It is clear you are accomplishing some extraordinary things.”
“I wish every person who complains about the decline of American education could spend a day, as I did, at Mariner High School,” Coe said. “They would leave with a changed perspective.”
Mariner racks up the honors
Mariner High educators’ efforts to raise academic levels have earned the school several honors. They include:
• Principal Brent Kline named the WESCO 3A/4A Conference Principal of the Year for 2012;
• Mariner awarded the School of Distinction Award in 2011 in reading and mathematics;
• Mariner awarded the Washington Achievement Award in 2011 in language arts;
• Mariner awarded the Washington Achievement Award in 2009 for its improved graduation rate.
Mr. Kline’s honor makes him eligible for the state Principal of the Year award, to be determined in March.