Meet an Administrator: John Mitchell
Position: Principal at Four Heroes Elementary School
Years in Education: 29
Years at Clover Park: 19
John Mitchell has been the principal at Four Heroes Elementary for the last three years. He served in the same position at Oakwood and Southgate for 16 years before that. Before coming to Lakewood, he worked in eastern Washington and Wyoming.
What initially attracted you to a career in education?
When I was in elementary school, I got kicked out of school a lot. My parents went through a divorce and I was going through a tough time. No one took the time to see why John was such a pain. So, I was just crying out like a lot of the students I see now. When I was in middle school, I became determined to be a teacher so I could be an advocate for my students, who are going through a lot of the same things I did.
How did your career get started?
Because I didn’t have a great upbringing, my coaches were so pivotal in my life. I always wanted to teach and coach. I still call my football coach, Bruce Keith, to this day. He was such an influence on my life. I started coaching and teaching in Wyoming. I coached football and wrestling for a year before moving to Zillah, Wash. I coached and taught fourth grade for three or four years before becoming the athletic director and eventually taking over a principal position.
What attracted you to Clover Park School District?
I moved out here because I wanted to try and experience something different in my life, but I wanted to stay close to my daughter, who lives in Spokane. The diversity in Clover Park School District was a big factor. There is some diversity in eastern Washington, where I was working before I moved out here, but it’s so much more diverse here. I wanted to help students who are growing up and struggle with their family life like I did. When I landed at Oakwood, it felt like I was among my people.
What kept you working at Oakwood Elementary for so long?
I had a kindergarten teacher say to me early in my first year at Oakwood that she thought I was just using it as a stepping stone. It really made me think. Though, ultimately, that's not why I stayed for so long. I love the families and community. It just became part of me, and my kids went to school there. It took us a while to get things straightened out but, once we did, we were a school of distinction four years in a row.
How can you help create promising futures from your position?
I think it's making sure that my students and teachers all understand we are a Kids at Hope school. We don't just say it, we believe it. So, it's instilling hope in students and instilling a self-esteem and a belief that they could do anything they set their minds to. I think that's probably our biggest push is to make sure everyone walks out of here feeling like they can do anything.
What is the best part of your job?
The kids. This place always gets smarter when the kids come back from a vacation or summer break and that's why we're here. The best part is interacting with kids and watching them grow and achieve at high levels.
What is the hardest part about your job?
When I see kids that go on to middle school and they're not where they're supposed to be. Knowing that that child is still going to struggle is hard. I don't want to say we failed them but we just didn’t get them to where they needed to be. That's a challenge.
What are the challenges of being the principal at a brand new school?
We did a great job at Oakwood and we were at Southgate for a year, but now we're trying to blend those two communities. One group comes from a neighborhood and the other group comes from a lot of apartment complexes. Plus, we had to start all over from the ground up with new teachers, and
we're still transitioning through and trying to find teachers who want to stay here and make it a career at Four Heroes.
What are your hobbies?
Right now my hobbies are chasing my kids. I have a junior in high school who wrestles and golfs, and I have a freshman who is on a select soccer team. We're traveling and watching soccer, golf and wrestling matches. And now, the little ones are just starting. They're just getting into their interests. I also work to connect with extended family in eastern Washington and spend time with my wife’s parents. We also do Disneyland a lot as a family.
Who was the educator that had the biggest impact on you and why?
Bruce Keith, my high school football coach. He is a great father figure. We won a state title when I played for him, and he continued winning state titles. To this day, I still keep in touch. In fact, I just wrote a note to him on his Facebook page letting him know how much he truly impacted my life. I wanted him to know that he is still impacting kids today through me.
What is your favorite book?
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. The story focuses on the struggle of a boy who had to work hard to earn money to buy two hunting dogs. It describes the journey he takes to get the dogs and the different trials and challenges he goes through with them. You can see the love and bond they have, and at the end, it’s something that just gets you emotionally.