Meet Kamiak’s new principal

Dr. Eric Hong is Mike Gallagher's replacement
By Brandon Gustafson | Sep 19, 2018
Eric Hong

For the first time in a decade, there is new leadership at Kamiak High School.

Mike Gallagher, who was the principal at Kamiak for the last 10 years, retired after the 2017-2018 school year.

Now, Dr. Eric Hong is the Kamiak Knights’ new leader.

Hong, a University of Washington graduate, studied Architectural Studies and Construction Management during college.

“Teaching was initially supposed to be a temporary gig,” Hong said, laughing.

Hong’s permanent teaching career started at Ballard High School in 1995, and he spent most of his time in the Kent School District.

He completed his student teaching at Kentridge High School, and years later was named the school’s vice principal.

He spent the last eight years in the Kent School District office, where he was a School Improvement Officer, assisting high schools and their principals and supporting them with school improvement planning, instructional leadership coaching, and curriculum alignment.

“This is the farthest north I’ve worked,” Hong said.

Now, Hong is happy to be back in the schools and out of his administrative role.

“You feel like you’re on the sidelines as an admin, and now I’m back in the building,” he said. “I missed working with students and kids. It’s where all the action is.”

Hong said Kamiak is a great spot to end up.

“Kamiak has all the ingredients to be a number one school in the state,” he said.

Hong said a website called niche.com had Kamiak ranked as the 19th best school in the state. When filtered to schools of 2,000 students or more, Kamiak was ranked fourth, and when filtered down further to account for the amount of free and reduced lunches offered at the school, they were at the top.

“I jokingly told my staff, ‘In some ways, we’re already number one,'” Hong said.

Hong said one reason why Kamiak, and the Mukilteo School District, is a good place for him to be is their equity policy.

“Our superintendent, assistant superintendent, and school board are all focused on equity as a primary driver, so all kids have the opportunity to succeed,” he said. “There are school districts more diverse than Mukilteo that haven’t even implemented something like this yet.”

He lauded the experience of the school board and the district’s administrators as a key reason he took the Kamiak job.

“They support their teachers and do a great job of site-based decision making,” Hong said. “They’re veterans, and they know what they’re doing.”

Being in education for more than two decades, he said many things have changed since his days in Ballard.

“The biggest challenge and change over my 24 years is the success for each and every kid in public schools,” Hong said. “Education over the last 24 years has changed tremendously. I told parents at freshman orientation that they can’t reference (their experience) from when they were students.

What we’re asking teachers to do is really hard. The tougher part of it is we can’t afford to let one kid fail. I told my staff that they are the future makers and molders.”

Hong said his first few weeks at Kamiak have been great, and he’s seeing a lot of great things from his students already.

“Our student leaders are awesome. The kids want to focus on climate and culture,” he said. “Kamiak has gone through a lot, and they recognize the need to move forward.”

Hong had nothing but positive comments to say about his new staff, which he noted includesseveral teachers who were there when the school first opened.

“I love their enthusiasm. They are proud of the Kamiak tradition, and they care about our kids,” Hong said. “They focus on the alignment of equity, and create access for students.”

Hong’s main goal is making sure every Kamiak graduate has the ability to pursue post-high school education.

“Ten to 20 years ago, high school was treated as a destination – ‘Get the diploma, and I’ll be OK,’” Hong said. “If I just let a kid get their diploma and that’s it, I haven’t succeeded. In most cases, a high school diploma isn’t enough. Everyone needs post-high school or a college education to make a living wage.”

He said he’d read studies showing the average wage gap between those who only have their high school diploma compared to college graduates is about $1 million over a lifetime.

“High school is no longer a destination, it’s a launching pad,” Hong said. “We can no longer tell a student to just get by. We have to prep them for the future.”

The key to his transition, he said, has been the quality of Kamiak’s administrative team.

“They’re top-notch. All have lots of experience. They’re a veteran admin team,” Hong said. “At the end of the day, tough decisions come to me, but it’s solid teamwork. Stephen Shurtleff (vice principal) asked me if I was stressed, and I said, ‘Not really. I have you guys.’”

Hong said he called Gallagher over the summer to ask him about where the school is at and areas it needed to improve, which helped affirm his decision to take the job.

“When he first came here, he made a three-year commitment, and he stayed for 10 years,” Hong said. “I took that as a great sign.”

Hong said he sees a strong sense of pride for Kamiak within the Mukilteo community, and he hopes to continue that going forward.

“At the district office, there are Kamiak grads or parents who have students here,” Hong said. “I feel like the community is really proud of this school.”

 

 

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