Monday, September 26, 2011

Hail to Aviation High School

When I was in the fifth grade, the President of the United States came to my small hometown in Pennsylvania, and I badly wanted to see him. It wasn't that I wanted to see Ronald Reagan, specifically...I wanted to see the President of the United States. As a ten year old, I knew nothing about politics, but I did know, intuitively, that the President of the United States coming to your town is a big deal that doesn't happen every day. For whatever reason, I wasn't able to go, and I had to wait 30 years to see The President of the United States in person.

Principal Reba Gilman addresses the AHS students
 The student body of Aviation High School won't have to wait that long: they got to see the President of the United States yesterday. The entire student body was invited to attend his speech yesterday at the Paramount Theater as recognition for excellent work as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) "Lighthouse" model school. To be recognized in this manner is a real honor! The students and chaperones were comped tickets for the recognition. And also, thanks to the Aviation H.S. PTA, whose funds purchased the school buses to the event.

Arrival in Seattle

The day began at 10:15 Sunday morning, when 365 students, parent chaperones, and staff gathered in the gym at Aviation H.S. for a pep talk by Reba Gilman. Mostly, Principal Gilman was reminding students that the purpose of the school's involvement was recognition, not political. Soon we were assigned to one of seven buses. Mine included school board member Bernie Dorsey, staff members Katie Carper, Sarah Fitzpatrick, and Dindria Barrow, parent Gordon McHenry, and about 40 students. We were safely driven by Sandy, who gave up watching the Seahawks for the occasion, but wore her Seahawks earrings anyway.

Waiting in the rain to get in

Everything was on schedule...until we arrived at the Paramount. Hurry up and wait, as the saying goes. It was a good lesson in patience for the students. First, we waited in line outside the theater, which stretched three blocks. The line itself lasted at least an hour and included a short rain shower. Eventually, each of us passed through the metal detectors...and then waited again in our balcony seats. About a half hour later, the Robert McCray Band played three or four numbers. I found myself wishing we were in a small jazz venue to hear them, but mostly wishing for the President's speech to begin. Nope...just another hour of waiting.

The pause gave me time to reflect on the amazing journey Aviation H.S. has taken since its opening in 2004. Many have traveled this journey, including my predecessor superintendents Joe McGeehan, who helped dream up the school, and John Welch, who helped make it a reality. Some, like my friend Rita Creighton, started on the journey with us, but have since passed away. Those early days were a leap of faith, especially for the first hundred students who went to the Duwamish site we borrowed from SSCC with four teachers, two office staff, a principal, and a dream.

Principal Gilman with AHS seniors

Fast forward to today and Aviation H.S. is well established as a school of choice for math and science, nested within an aviation context. By design, nearly half of AHS students are from districts other than Highline, and over the years students have commuted from as far as Monroe and Port Orchard to be a part of this unique school.

With school board member Bernie Dorsey
Last month, we broke ground on a state-of-the-art $43 million facility that will be located next to the Museum of Flight air park. Amazingly, $15 million of the amount was raised from donations by generous donors, making the school a true public/private partnership. Former Superintendent Welch, Principal Gilman, and lead donor James Raisbeck - among many - deserve much credit for their vision and follow through in rallying the aviation community, as well as the public entities that supported the fund.

Finally, the moment arrived. At 2:45, basketball legends Lenny Wilkens and Bill Russell took the stage with charm and charisma to introduce the President. The anticipation was palpable and I watched the reactions of the students - each of whom I spoke with later told me they were grateful for the experience - as much as I listened to the words of the speakers. Finally, nearly an hour and a half after the scheduled end of the event, it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States...

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