In times of crisis it’s still about kids | Tukwila School Supt. Nancy Coogan

Though South Africa is just about as far away from Tukwila as you can get on the globe, Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and vision – of inclusion, of humanity, of hope, of opportunity – could be tailor-made for our own racially and economically diverse community.

The world lost one of its most important leaders in December. Though South Africa is just about as far away from Tukwila as you can get on the globe, Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and vision – of inclusion, of humanity, of hope, of opportunity – could be tailor-made for our own racially and economically diverse community. Here’s one of his core tenets that dovetails with my own personal and professional life journey: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Education is not just powerful. It is the most powerful. It doesn’t just change lives. It changes the world. As educators, we must remind ourselves of this truth daily (hourly?). The alluring alternative – just like in your own busy life – is to let the urgent outweigh the important.

For example, pipes and sprinkler heads burst at Cascade View and Tukwila Elementary in the freezing weather before break. The logistical challenges were daunting. Hundreds of students were displaced from their classrooms and materials and equipment were ruined. It was stressful. It was messy. More than once we considered the need to cancel school. Throughout the crisis, however, every staff member – from teachers to maintenance workers to bus drivers – looked past the disorder to unwaveringly ask: What’s best for students? They were determined to run school as normally as possible, despite makeshift class spaces and materials. I could not have been prouder.

We are striving to model that intense student-focus at the district level, too. As such, I am immensely pleased to announce our new interim Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Karen Dickinson. When her predecessor resigned mid-December, my top priority was to continue classroom services and support uninterrupted. Teaching and Learning is the absolute heart of our work, and Karen is going to keep us moving forward with critical functions such as implementation of Common Core State Standards and the new principal/teacher evaluation system, curriculum alignment, and Title 1 administration.  Karen knows her stuff! She has served in similar roles in Tacoma and Federal Way schools. She currently consults in the areas of professional development, model lessons, instructional coaching, and scaffolding for all levels of learners. Welcome, Karen!

Over winter break, I spent time reflecting on these big events –Mandela’s passing, our damaged schools, and the new administrative expertise at the core of our work. While unconnected, each gave me a unique opportunity to consider the power and purpose of our daily endeavors in schools. It’s all about children – every name, every need – and educating them to the best of our ability no matter what the obstacles.

That is my mantra for the New Year (but, please – this first-year superintendent doesn’t need any more unexpected events to further drive that point home). Happy 2014!

In service,

Nancy Coogan

Tukwila School Superintendent Nancy Coogan can be reached via email at


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