Hazen’s new principal comes home

June 5, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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When new Hazen High School Principal Kate O’Brien officially begins her duties July 1, she certainly won’t need a tour of her workplace.

O’Brien knows the Hazen halls very well, because she roamed them as student, having graduated from the school in 2000.

“There’s no hiding from me, I know where you all are. I know all the spots,” she joked when talking about her familiarity with the school.

O’Brien remembers spending long hours at Hazen, participating in as many activities as she could. She was an athlete, a cheerleader, a club president and an active member of the Associated Student Body leadership.

It all led to a memorable four years, and a great appreciation for all that the Hazen community has to offer, she said.

“I was a very involved high school student in the building and I think that’s one of my primary interests for returning, is to make sure that other students have that same experience,” she said.

She comes from a family of educators. Her parents are retired teachers, and both are passionate members of the Hazen community, having raised their family in the Renton Highlands. O’Brien’s father, John, taught and coached at the school, and continues as a substitute.

Though education is in her blood, it wasn’t something she immediately planned to pursue, but once she did, she always had an eye toward one day returning to the Renton School District.

When she got the chance to helm the Highlanders, she jumped at it, knowing how much it would mean not only to her, but her entire family, especially her dad.

“My mom and I got dressed up in Hazen clothes and surprised him, and he was just speechless,” she said. “He has such respect for the principals he worked for there, I think that, for him, makes it even more special and more important.”

O’Brien’s teaching career began at Federal Way High School, where she taught social studies. It was a subject that appealed to her, in part, thanks to Hazen humanities teacher Cathy Ames, who is still at the school.

“She was absolutely my inspiration for choosing social studies,” O’Brien said. “I fell in love with it after taking her course. I always wanted to teach the same things that she did.”

O’Brien then moved to the Clover Park School District, where she served as the Lakes High School assistant principal. At Lakes, she worked with a diverse school community, serving students from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

After that, she spent time as an educational consultant for Ignite for Schools. In that capacity, she worked with high school administrative teams, including high schools in the Renton School District, to create staff development workshops focused on achieving a positive culture and climate, in addition to increased academic success.

She returned to the Renton School District in 2012, accepting an assistant principal position at the Secondary Learning Center.

“I really did want to come back and serve in my home community,” she said.

She is now working closely with current Hazen Principal Randy Taylor, as she transitions to her new position, soaking up as much information as she can.

Taylor served as the interim principal this school year, taking over while district staff found a replacement for John Kniseley, who left to become principal at Kentwood High School in 2013.

“Kate brings passion, vision, outstanding leadership and instructional skills to this position,” Taylor wrote in an email to staff.

O’Brien said she can’t wait to hit the ground running working with Hazen staff, forming community partnerships and making sure the school continues its tradition of excellence.

“Teachers are clearly committed to getting students across that stage,” she said, “and I’m so excited to be a part of a team that puts kids first.”

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