Blaine principal to take state job
By Jack Kintner
Blaine high school principal Dan Newell announced Monday that he plans to accept a job in Olympia next month with the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). He’s been asked to join newly elected state superintendent Randy Dorn’s transition team in Olympia and then continue on as one of Dorn’s top aides. He said he expects the position to last at least through Dorn’s first four-year term.
“Dan Newell is a top-notch administrator and a currently serving high school principal, which gives him a perspective we do not currently have in Olympia,” Dorn said, when asked why he picked Newell, “and he’s also got great relationships with teachers and especially kids, which shows that he understands the other side of education, the relationship side.”
Dorn said he’s known Newell ever since the two served as high school principals at the same time in the 1980s, Dorn in Eatonville and Newell at Nooksack, prior to coming to Blaine in the fall of 1990. Another common link is high school coach Rob Ridnour, who has worked for both men.
Dorn visited Newell at Blaine high school last September while running against incumbent superintendent Terry Bergeson. He takes office on January 14 and has told Newell to be ready to start the next day. “I like what Dan’s done in Blaine but I also need somebody who can represent me, and Dan’s known me all the way through. He lives the principles that he says are important in education.”
“It’s by far the biggest honor of my career,” said Newell, 54, who came to Blaine after being recruited by his predecessor, Gordon Dolman, when Dolman moved from the high school principal’s office to become Blaine School District’s superintendent of schools. Since Dorn’s offer is only verbal at this point Newell has not officially resigned his position, but when he gets an official contract he said he will accept it, “although it’s going to be hard to leave. This is a wonderful place,” he said, “because we have an optimal learning environment, with great kids, a strong and caring staff and a very supportive community.”
Newell said that part of what makes Blaine such a good place to work is what he called an “atmosphere of opportunity. Most schools say that they do that, but we really do it. Every student has at least one program and one adult to whom they can closely relate, something to commit themselves to and an adult who’s in their corner.”
During Newell’s tenure the high school has doubled in size to 640 students and 40 teachers. Blaine high school won two state academic championships in knowledge bowl in 2000 and 2007 and four in math, from 1999 through 2002.
For the past three years the school has been listed by Newsweek magazine in the top five percent of high schools nationwide, in part due to Newell’s enthusiastic support of advanced placement (AP) programs. Students in AP classes can take tests at the end of a term that if passed qualify them for college credit in a given subject. The number of tests administered went from eight given to a single class in 1990 to 175 this past year.
“This level of participation in a district that has almost half of the kids on a free or reduced lunch program is amazing to me,” Newell said. “We have a lot of students in families who are financially challenged.”
Teachers and students interviewed for this story all expressed regret at Newell’s pending departure and appreciation for his long tenure.
Student advisor Karen Mulholland, whose career in Blaine is almost as long as Newell’s, said, “This is a much better place than it was when I got here because of him and how he’s promoted a positive learning environment. He tweaks the system to fit the kid. What I’ve learned from him is that the most important thing in my work is the kid waiting at the door to my office. We are happy for him but are sad to see him go. Under his leadership Blaine has been a fun and productive place to work.”
“Dan’s a glass half full kind of guy, an administrator who very rarely says no,” said school librarian Carey Bacon.
English teacher Jeff Worthy wrote a poem for Newell on his departure that says in part “Your vision made this school a place where we/As teachers love to come and work each day;/Where students thrive and educators grow/As you, with wisdom, work to lead the way.”
English teacher Mike Stephens said that compared to administrators in the Shoreline and Edmonds districts, “Newell is far and away the best I’ve worked with. He’s compassionate, and treats us like professionals, letting us do our job. He leaves you wanting to go the extra mile for him.”
“He’s the best,” said horticulture teacher George Kaas, “which you can tell by the depth and the breadth of the people he’s brought here, what he’s built over the years.”
“When I’d sit down and talk to Mr. Newell I always felt like he listened and that he cared,” said 2008 graduate Patrick Mulholland.
Blaine senior Gabriel Lord said that Newell “is definitely one of the best guys I know. He did a lot for me. His inspiration got me where I am today.”
Newell is a Bellingham native who graduated from Sehome High School in 1972, and received his bachelor of education degree from Western Washington University in 1977 and a masters in 1984. He and his wife Kim have four boys, Brandon, Adrian, Anthony and Jesse, the last three of whom are Blaine graduates.