TUMWATER - Retiring Tumwater superintendent Terry Borden – son of a teacher and superintendent, grandson of a school board president and the father of a Bellingham teacher - first tried a different career.
Borden’s first job out of Central Washington University was as an industrial engineer at Boeing, but he soon returned to school to get a bachelor’s degree in education because he missed the people.
“My mom … she had a one-room schoolhouse in the early ’30s in a place called Vine Maple in Oregon.” Borden said, pointing at a photo of his mother and one of her classes. “Every one of those kids up there have the same smile my mom does. She was my role model through my whole life.”
Borden is retiring from the Tumwater School District after 42 years in education, including periods as principal at Tenino Elementary School and St. Michael School in Olympia. He started at Tumwater 24 years ago at Littlerock Elementary.
District officials say that Borden is leaving the district in a good position, as it readies for its new superintendent, Mike Kirby, an assistant superintendent for the Richland School District.
“He’s really stayed focused on improving the quality of instruction,” said School Board President Jay Wood.
He said that while the district had a goal of quality of instruction before Borden took the top job six years ago, Wood said that Borden built an administration that was focused on those goals.
“I give Terry a lot of credit for keeping people on task. Terry has had some good people in place to do the work, but it takes somebody to be the lead person. We appreciate all he’s done for us here,” Wood said.
Borden is “a person just easily smiling, happy-go-lucky but serious about his work,” Wood said. “Once we gave him the reins, he’s taken the reins and he’s done an excellent job of driving the wagon down the right road.”
Borden said that when he took his first teaching job in 1968, classroom expectations were very different from what they are today.
“It was almost like you were self-employed in a classroom. You closed the door and you taught without much direction,” he said. “The kids may have been quiet, but I am not sure how engaged they were.”
“The biggest change is that we’ve been we’ve been able to take and put together a plan of action that could improve student learning and make it a reality,” he said.
He said that everyone in the district has to know how they are important to students’ education.
“Everybody can find their handle. If you’re a bus driver, you need to know what you do is contributing to student learning,” he said. “They’re the first adults to meet children in the morning. We need to have clean safe schools.”
Littlerock Elementary School second grade teacher Bertha Klooz said she decided to accept her first job from Borden instead of from another district, because Borden told her he would respect whatever decision she made that was best for her family.
“It was unusual and it was hard to believe,” she said.
Klooz, who also is retiring this year, said that Borden’s concern for each individual extended from teachers and other school employees to the students.
She said he made a point of stopping with each one of her students on a recent classroom visit.
“As fast as he moves, he always has his priorities in line,” Klooz said. “He’s always been about integrity and dignity of the individual.”
In 2004, Borden had already announced his retirement when he was named acting superintendent to fill in for outgoing Nick Brossoit, who became superintendent in Edmonds. Borden then applied to replace Brossoit, and was permanently hired for the position from a field of more than 30 applicants.
Borden said he plans to spend more time with his family and with his hobbies. His wife, Joanne, retired from teaching at East Olympia Elementary three years ago.
He said that a focus now is on making sure that students are engaged with their learning, and he said that the district has tried to help the community understand how modern classrooms have changed.
“I think that helping parents understand that society has changed considerably,” he said. “This year, we had several math nights to explain how math is taught in our skills and how they can help reinforce the skills that they are learning in the schools.”
He said that for most part, parents and the community have been on board with the direction that Tumwater has been going.
“These are the parents’ and the community’s schools,” he said. “We’re just the hired help and we need to do everything we can to make sure that the parents are getting the support for their children.
“They will judge us on the results, as they should.”
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