Doing ‘whatever it takes’ earns distinction for principal

Fort Stevens Elementary’s Scot Embrey earns honor that puts him in running for state Principal of the Year

lpemberton@theolympian.comDecember 23, 2013 

Fort Stevens Elementary School’s Scot Embrey was recently named the 2014 Capital Regional Distinguished Principal. It’s an honor that puts him in the running for the state’s Principal of the Year, which will be selected by the Association of Washington School Principals.

“I think Scot has a real heart for kids, and I think that’s one of his greatest strengths,” Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Andy Wolf said. “He’s very collaborative and always seeks to do his best. He has high expectations for those around him, and himself.”

Embrey, 42, talked about his career and the award with The Olympian.

Q: Tell us a little about your family and your background.

A: I’m married. My wife’s name is Janelle. She’s a financial adviser at Edward Jones. We have three kids: Colton, 16, Molly, 9, and Mason, who is 6.

I taught for seven years in Spokane. I also spent five years as principal at Stevens Elementary School in Aberdeen.

This my 13th year as an elementary principal, and 20th year in education. When I became an elementary principal, I was the youngest principal in the state at the time.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I grew up and went to high school in Spokane.

I went to Western Washington University and have a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in developmental psychology. I have a master’s in administration from Eastern Washington University.

Q: How did you get into education?

A: Growing up, both of my parents (worked) in education.

My mom was a teacher and principal, and then curriculum director and assistant superintendent at East Valley (School District in Spokane). Dad did one year in special education at a junior high in Spokane and then went to teach English at Spokane Community College. He went on to become dean, and then vice president of the college.

So I was kind of born to do this work.

I took one education course at Western, and that was a pretty much done deal. I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Q: Tell us about the award.

A: It’s just a real special thing. It is a reflection of how dedicated our staff has been to a couple different priorities we’ve had.

One is a theme we started a few years ago: We’re going to set our sights on the idea that we’re going to do whatever it takes mentally to make a difference for a kid. As simplistic as that sounds, it has caused us to give up on and not pay attention to all of the barriers that might be in our way.

The other piece is that it’s a reflection of how well our Progress Monitoring System is going. Every week, students take short – 5 to 7 questions – reading and math assessments. It informs teachers of their practice. Did students understand the standard being taught? Do they understand it well enough that it’s time to move on?

On Tuesdays I meet with teachers and they bring in their graph results. They present possibly a re-teaching plan if the (pass rate) wasn’t high enough. ... It’s the first time in my career as a principal that teachers are collectively coming around the idea of improving their day-to-day practice in a very intentional manner.

Q: What do you like about being a principal?

A: I can have a larger impact on a larger population of stakeholders – students, families and staff.

I love the idea of diagnosing issues and problems – whether perceived or real – and developing solutions and solving those issues. And the end game is setting kids up for success and feeling that repeated success.

Q: What are some of the challenges in your job?

A: I think a large part is just a matter of making sure that I prioritize my workload, in the things I’m going to place an emphasis on, around building or district goals.

There are so many different directions you can spend quality time or effort on in this position, and it can be really good work, (but a challenge is) just achieving your priorities and providing yourself with a balance. You’ve got to balance out the workload.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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