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Degnin ‘boldly goes’ to Wolfle Elementary

KINGSTON — Just as the Starship Enterprise zips about the galaxy in search of “new life forms and new civilizations,” on the cult TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” new Wolfle principal Ben Degnin, too, is on a mission.

Though his job will be to oversee the staff and 480 students who attend the Kingston school, he does like to compare his work with the journeys of fictional Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew of loyal Starfleet officers.

“I just love Star Trek — period,” he said. “There’s so much in the show that relates to life, including the issues of diversity and acceptance.”

But as a principal, he likens himself not as much to Captain Picard, but to his right-hand, “No. 1” man, the often-bearded Commander William Riker.

“I’d rather be Riker,” he said. “I like to think of myself as more of a hands on person. Picard just stayed on the bridge.”

Keeping Degnin on his “bridge” — his office, that is — is nearly impossible, he said, as he likes to get out and about in the school he oversees, heading “away-team missions,” as Riker was accustomed. That includes serving lunch to students on a daily basis.

“You won’t see me in my office a lot,” he said.

Like the heroes and heroines of Star Trek, Degnin has been an explorer, never having lived in one place for more than a decade and having studied and accumulated two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees in his life.

“I really like new adventures and challenges,” he said.

Degnin graduated from high school in Lynnwood in 1976, though he had attended schools in Tracy and Bakersfield, Calif. before moving to the Pacific Northwest. He received bachelor’s degrees in Oregon, first in liberal arts from Mt. Angel Community College in 1981, then in education from Oregon State University in 1986. He got his first master’s degree at OSU in Technical Education in 1990, and his second in school administration from Central Washington University in 1994.

He said he simply loves school — and would attend endlessly if that was possible.

“If I could be a life-time student, I would,” he said.

Degnin’s teaching career began between and during his various studies, working first as a shop teacher and then gaining his endorsement in special education teaching and working in that field for Shoreline School District.

There, he met his wife Jill and moved to Aberdeen to start a family.

After teaching for four years there, Degnin received his first job as an administrator, working as assistant principal of Miller Junior High School. Two years later, his family moved to Lacey, but Degnin accepted a position as principal in Aberdeen at Robert Gray Elementary, where he commuted from Washington’s capital to its coast for three years.

Degnin got a job thereafter in the North Thurston School District, as principal of two local elementaries in Lacey, where we would work until this school year.

The move was bittersweet, Degnin explained, but well worth it.

“We loved Olympia,” he said. “But we’ve moved to something that we love even more.”

Degnin, his wife and their three children Anna, Ian and Xander have moved to Bainbridge Island, a dream of the couple’s since they originally lived in the Seattle area.

He said one of his goals is learning about the culture of the local Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes, as Wolfle is one of North Kitsap’s most diverse schools with 17 percent of its students identified as Native American. But he added that he brings experience in diversity education, as Pleasant Glade in Lacey — the school he last was principal at — is a community of the largest Muslim population south of Seattle.

He cites his biggest theme for the year as “community building,” and finding ways to bring together students and staff.

“We’re here to serve kids, but also serve each other,” he said.

As he settles into his office — complete with a Captain Picard life-size laminated replica, Star Trek board games and other various Trekkie memorabilia — Degnin admitted that there’s one thing that he’ll be doing that is un-Star Trek-like: staying put.

“I’d like to hold the course here,” Degnin said. “I’m looking forward to sticking around for a while.”

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