MIHS principal chosen

New school administrator hails from Victoria, B.C.

Mercer Island High School has offered the job of principal to John Harrison, a secondary school principal in Victoria, B.C. Harrison, a Canadian citizen, has been a school administrator for 14 years. The position will pay $110,000 per year.

Harrison received a bachelor of arts degree in education with honors from Simon Fraser University and a master of arts degree in education with distinction from Western Washington University in Bellingham. But perhaps the best lesson he received in the importance of an education came from his own family.

Harrison's father, a long-time employee at a mine in British Columbia, lost his job when the mine closed. He had four children to raise but had never finished high school. He was somewhat disabled; his hearing was impaired from working in the constant clamor of the mine.

He was determined to provide, as best he could, for his growing family. The first step was to finish high school. When the local high school would not accept the 40-something man as a student, he drove 30 miles each way to attend school in another town. He earned a high school diploma within a year, went on to college, completed an engineering degree, and went back to work.

Harrison has not forgotten that time.

Now 45 himself, Harrison has spent the last four years as principal of Reynolds Secondary School with 1,000 students in Victoria, B.C. He and his wife Yvonne have four children: three girls and one boy. Two of the children attend high school, one is in middle school and one in elementary school. Harrison's spouse, Yvonne Harrison, has a new position teaching at Seattle University.

Harrison grew up in White Rock, B.C., a small town just across the United States-Canadian border from Blaine, Wash.

"I was a border town kid,'" he said. "I had a lot of friends in Blaine. We didn't have a theater, so we would go to Bellingham to see the movies." Issues such as "No Child Left Behind" laws and standardized testing are nothing new to Canadian educators.

"What strikes me is that most issues in education run parallel (between the countries.) It is more similar than different," he said of the issues facing high schools in the two countries. "We have been paying attention here to what has been happening in the U.S."

"It is really the skill set that is important," the educator said. "Your experience always enriches what you bring to a job. And a different perspective is always good."

Harrison obviously relishes his work.

"I advocate for teens, I listen to parents," he said.

The family had often talked about what a great city Seattle is, he explained.

"As the crow flies, Victoria is closer to Seattle than Olympia," he pointed out.

"I love life challenges. I am ready to go on to another adventure." More than two dozen students, staff and parents had the chance to meet and interview several candidates for the position.

Superintendent Cyndy Simms made the final decision about the new hire. She is enthusiastic about Harrison.

"I see a man filled with an energy to make a difference for all students," she said. "His superintendent describes him as a strong team builder who works closely with his staff and as someone who has created a school where kids want to be before and after school. He told me he was thrilled when I offered him the job. I was thrilled when he said yes."

Parent Jenny Selby also found Harrison well-qualified and dedicated to students.

"John conveyed the breadth of his experience with educational issues and demonstrated that he will bring to our high school a focus on students' well being," she said.

One of the first acts of the new principal, will be hiring of a permanent associate principal.

Paul Highsmith and Donna Zickuhr both resigned from their positions in June 2004, leaving the high school of 1,400 students with only one remaining principal, Craig Olson.

Last summer, the district hired Kathy Siddoway as interim principal and Dan Peterson as interim associate principal, each on one year contracts. The district is advertising for an associate principal this month. The application deadline is April 22. Peterson has applied for the position. Other changes for the administrative leadership at the district are also in the works. Two key employees will be leaving within the next two years. Associate superintendent for financial services, Michael Ziara, will retire at the end of the 2005- 2006 school term. John Cameron, presently the associate superintendent of instructional services, will retire from the school district at end of the 2006-07 school term.

Ziara has been the district for 14 years. Cameron has been with the district for 30 years, most of that time as principal at Lakeridge Elementary School. The district has already begun the search for a director of instructional services to replace Cameron.

The head of instructional services at the district is responsible for leading the curriculum and assessment teams that select and implement curriculum. The business services head is responsible for the district budget and financial health.

Both Cameron and Ziara will spend much of their final year helping a new person phase into their respective jobs. The district business services manager, Liz Dodd, will be taking over more responsibilities for the associate superintendent in the coming months.

The district is looking for a manager who has experience as a school or district administrator who has a "high level of personal energy, a positive outlook on life, and a sense of humor."

Both Ziara and Cameron cut their hours last year to help the district achieve budget cuts.

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