Schools welcome new principals in changing of the guard

August 29, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Students and staff members will notice some new faces roaming the halls when the 2014-2015 school year kicks off in September.

Both Newcastle and Hazelwood elementary schools will welcome new principals, while Hazen High School welcomes back a familiar face to lead its students.

Newcastle Elementary School Principal Rich Mellish will take over for outgoing Principal Marla Newton, who secured a position in the Federal Way School District.

Judy Busch will come out of retirement to temporarily assume the Hazelwood principal spot left open by Principal Cindy Farnsworth, who is now at the Meadow Crest Early Learning Center.

Finally, Kate O’Brien returns to her Highlander roots, taking over as principal of Hazen. O’Brien, a 2000 Hazen graduate, follows interim Principal Randy Taylor, who served for one school year.

School starts Sept. 2 for Renton School District students and Sept. 3 for those in the Issaquah School District.

Newcastle — Rich Mellish

Rich Mellish

Rich Mellish

Although Newcastle Elementary’s new principal is new to the district, Rich Mellish already understands, both personally and professionally, what Issaquah schools offer.

He has children enrolled at Apollo and Maywood elementary schools, but has always kept his eye on the Eastside school district from positions in Seattle and Mercer Island.

“I’ve been watching Issaquah for almost 20 years, because there are pieces of the work that they do that constantly come up among my colleagues,” he said. “It’s just one of those districts that tends to draw attention from the great work it does.”

Mellish comes to Newcastle after serving as the West Mercer Elementary School principal in Mercer Island for six years. He was a teacher at Ballard High School before taking over as principal of Seattle’s Schmitz Park Elementary School for seven years.

His Newcastle appointment is a homecoming of sorts, Mellish said. His family makes its home in a community near Apollo, but they spend a lot of their time in Newcastle.

“I invest very heavily wherever I work. To me, this job is so much more than a job,” he said. “I’m very used to being a part of the community, but I’ve really missed living in the community that I work in, so this is going to be great.”

Mellish models his philosophy on the principles of servant leadership, he said, highlighting one’s duty to serve the community, students and staff, while sharing in the responsibility to build leaders of the future.

Building community relationships and fostering an environment of open dialogue among parents, students and staff is a priority for him, Mellish said.

“I really see what I most enjoy about being in public education and being in elementary schools is that we are a community, so it’s about the relationships,” he said. “Communication can be very open with me. I am accessible. I don’t want problems to build up. I’d rather deal with them early and effectively.”

Email is a good way to communicate with him, Mellish said, and he’s working with the school PTA to set dates for regular morning coffee talks with parents. Contact him at MellishR@issaquah.wednet.edu.

“It all becomes very real once we get to that first day of school,” Mellish said, “and that’s when the energy and excitement really takes off.”

Hazelwood — Judy Busch

Judy Busch

Judy Busch

Judy Busch retired from a longtime education career, including the past 10 years as Maplewood Heights Elementary School principal, in 2011.

But the daily intricacies, and joys, of school administration never really leave a person, she said, so it was without much hesitation she agreed to come out of retirement to serve as Hazelwood’s interim-principal.

“It feels good to be able to help out a district that I’ve committed my career life to anyway,” she said. “There was no place else I wanted to be, so if I’m going to come back to somewhere, come back here.”

Busch will be at Hazelwood through December, while district officials search for a more permanent replacement. Her first priority is to get the school up and running efficiently and without hiccups, she said.

She got a bit of a late start, with just three weeks before school starts, but her 22 years of teaching experience, including time at the old Hazelwood, and familiarity with the Renton School District, will contribute to a smooth transition, Busch said.

“I really haven’t been gone very long, so although many things have changed, teaching and learning hasn’t changed,” she said.

Busch said she understands that the temporary nature of her position may make families uneasy, but noted that it’s important the district take time to find the perfect fit for the Hazelwood community.

“We’re all here to do the best for kids, and it’s going to be great,” she said. “The Renton School District is doing its best to find someone, but they’re not willing to settle for someone, and that’s the important piece.”

Hazen — Kate O’Brien

Kate O'Brien

Kate O’Brien

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

O’Brien knows the Hazen halls very well, because she roamed them as a 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’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.

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