Mr. Leavell goes to Washington (D.C.)

POULSBO — For years, Aaron Leavell has striven to give children an education that will prepare them for success in their adult lives.

Earlier this month, the North Kitsap School District’s director of secondary education took his passion to Washington, D.C., as Washington state’s representative in the “High School Principal of the Year” awards. While in the nation’s capital, Leavell met with legislators to discuss issues facing North Kitsap.

“There’s a lot of frustration (from educators) on how so many other things are being funded and bailed out, but yet education still doesn’t seem to be our top priority as a nation,” Leavell said. “We have a responsibility to provide the best education for all our kids. And if we don’t deliver an education that is personalized and meets educational needs, then we’re letting our kids down.”

While in Washington, D.C., Leavell also spent time with principals from every part of the country, developing ideas for how to better serve students in the face of shrinking budgets.

“It was an amazing experience to be around ... some of the best and brightest principals from across the nation,” Leavell said. “It was nice to know we’re not alone. No matter who you talk to, it’s the same situation. We have to get creative and continue to serve our kids to the best of our abilities. We can’t just shut down because we’re not getting money.”

Leavell believes teachers, lawmakers and administrators can only do so much, though. Students themselves bear a certain amount of responsibility for how they use the education they are given.

“In today’s society, if you’re a student and you don’t take your educational opportunities seriously, then you’re not going to have as many doors that are open for you,” Leavell said. “I believe the things we’re attempting to do in our schools are giving students more options and more opportunities, to be better prepared to make those difficult decisions about their future.”

Leavell knows from his own experience how important it is to take advantage of educational opportunities. A little more than a decade ago, Leavell was a new teacher at Bremerton Junior High. But when his boss commented on Leavell’s natural leadership abilities the young teacher decided to prepare for what he expected to be his future role as an educator.

“I was coaching three sports and I was the ASB adviser and I kind of had my hands in everything,” Leavell said. “(The principal) approached me one day and just said, ‘You’re not going to be teaching for very long. You’ve got a lot of qualities that people look for in educational leadership.’ So he encouraged me to get into a program.”

Leavell enrolled in a master’s degree program at Seattle Pacific University and in two years obtained his principal’s certification. Not long after, an assistant principal position opened up at the school, and Leavell was the obvious choice to fill it.

Two years later, Leavell was promoted again, this time to principal at Bremerton High School. Last March, in his fourth year at that post, Leavell was named “High School Principal of the Year” by the Association of Washington School Principals.

Leavell credits his colleagues in Bremerton for helping him win the award.

“These kinds of recognitions are never earned by one person,” he said. “It’s always a combination of community, parents, kids and staff. That’s what the reflection is, of their efforts.”

As for his new position in North Kitsap, which he has held since the summer, Leavell said he enjoys the change.

“I wasn’t sure how I would like it, because I’ve always been a very visible person out in the Bremerton community,” Leavell said. “So do I miss that part of being a principal? Absolutely. But do I enjoy working up here with the North Kitsap team, and am I glad I’m here? You betcha. I love it.”

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