Photo by Shane Harms
Principal Keven Wynkoop is a third generation BHS graduate.

Ballard High School Principal awarded Principal of the Year

Ballard High School Principal Keven Wynkoop has made real strides at the school since he started subbing there in 1999, and students, teachers and administrators have taken notice.

Last year BHS had the highest graduation rate in King County with 93 percent of students brandishing a cap and gown for graduation. The high graduation rate is a result of Wynkoop’s dedication and progressive leadership style that has helped his staff make sure students succeed.

That’s why Wynkoop, a BHS graduate himself, was named this year’s Washington State High School Principal of the Year by a panel of principals representing the Washington Association of Secondary School Principals (WASSP), an entity of the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP).

45 leagues in the state nominate a principle and King County nominated Wynkoop for the High School level.

Wynkoop was awarded the Principal of the Year on April 23. While in a staff meeting AWSP Executive Director, Gary Kipp, and AWSP Director of High School Programs, Scott Seaman, surprised Wynkoop.

“It was a complete surprise. They busted in the middle of a staff meeting when I asked if anyone had any announcements. Once I saw who came in, I knew what was going on. … It’s gratifying and an honor but the last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself, but rather to the students, teachers, the school especially and the district. … I really just felt honored being a league nominee,” said Wynkoop.

Wynkoop is recognized for two programs that he’s either created or led that have had a substantial effect on students succeeding at BHS.

“The programs are something I’m very proud of. If we were going to draw attention, I’d definitely want to focus on the things we are doing to try and reach our students. That’s what’s important to me.”

Wynkoop said that when he first started as Assistant Principal in 2005, he was asked, “What do you want to work on?” by then Principal Brockman. Wynkoop had worked with ninth graders the year before and knew the transition from middle school to high school was rough on some students.

Wynkoop said that students typically start dropping out in the 10th grade and it’s their experience leading up to it that makes all the difference.

“For the students all of a sudden the stakes are significantly raised and the pressures that come along with talking about college and their grades and how they will effect them down the road is tough. Also, socially -- you have these 14 year old kids coming into an environment with 18 year old adults at the same time and that gap between them is profound.”

“So finding ways to break down the barriers between the 14 year olds and the upperclassmen is very important for building a positive culture and building strong academic foundations that are going to pay off and open them up to many opportunities later in high school and later in life.”

After trying a few different programs, Brockman and Wynkoop found a ninth grader mentoring program called Link Crew.

“We tried different programs but nothing with any continuity. Link Crew seemed like a good fit for us, and I happily volunteered to lead the program.”

The Link Crew training was paid for by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant. Since adopting the national program the number of ninth graders with at least one failing grade has dropped from 89 in the program’s first year to 46 in 2013. During that same time, the number of ninth grade suspensions dropped from 30 to 18.

“I think the program has had a profound impact on students, the culture of our school, the environment and just kind of the attitude we look at ninth graders.”

In addition to the success of the Link Crew program, Wynkoop created the GAINS (Graduation Assistance Identifying the Needs of Students) program in order to meet specific academic and financial needs of students.

Three years ago Dick Lee, Executive Director of the BHS Alumni Association, approached Wynkoop with a proposition. Instead of funding something material, the Association wanted something that would really make a long-lasting difference in student’s lives.

“Ballard is truly connected to its heritage, with that we have an amazing alumni group with over 50 years of experience and a benefit of that is that they give back. … They provide funding for us that most public schools do not have.”

Again, Wynkoop was asked what he wanted to work on and he came up with an answer.

“It was almost like a principal's dream to basically be able to work on whatever I wanted. It was like when Principal Brockman asked me if there was something I wanted to take on. So I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and I realized the graduation rate was really gnawing at me.”

At the time the graduation rate was 88 percent, which was third in the district, but Wynkoop wondered what he could do for that 12 percent still struggling.

The GAINS program started the following year. Wynkoop said the inspiration came from examining Everett High School’s strategy to bump graduation rates. He said they used graduation coordinators. With the Alumni Association funding, BHS was able to hire a Success Coordinator that works one on one with students to find solutions to academic problems or personal issues. Struggling students are also rewarded for academic achievement with gift cards. Moreover, GAINS also provides funding for students from low-income families that can’t afford extra curricular activities and other things like assistance with going to the prom. However, the funding is contingent on academic performance.

Wynkoop said that the key to GAINS to look closely at students case by case, and to understand their individual context and goals in order to directly connecting students in need with resources. In addition, Wynkoop said that basic things like visiting college campuses are a big help in building the awareness of opportunities for students.

“The program is in its second year and making a difference in the lives of students that might have been otherwise forgotten,” says Wynkoop.

Wynkoop’s passion for education came at an early age. He said he always looked up to teachers and liked working with children and young people. Wynkoop played basketball, baseball and football in high school and graduated from BHS in 1994. He is a third generation BHS graduate. Wynkoop attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education. He later earned his Master in Education Administration from Western University. He has held numerous positions at BHS, including substitute teacher, coach, coordinator, history teacher and Assistant Principal.

This is his fourth year as principal at BHS, a school with over 1600 students. Wynkoop said with so many students to look after, the biggest part of his success is having the understanding from his wife, Rebecca, and children, son Nolan, 12, and daughter, Addyson, 8.

“I think on my award that says 'State High School Principal of the Year,' the back should read 'Most Understanding Wife in the World,' because the first would not happen without the second.”

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