Mount Si Principal John Belcher looks back on challenging first year
May 30, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
John Belcher, the youngest of three children, described his younger self as a people-pleaser.
In his 10-month-old job as Mount Si High School principal, he can’t please everybody.
Still, he tries.
“I haven’t done my job if I haven’t gotten a thank-you or a handshake from an interaction,” he said. “Even if people aren’t hearing the decision they seek.”
A Nathan Hale High School grad labeled a “coastie” while living in Omak, Belcher has reinserted himself in the west side and embedded himself in the Snoqualmie Valley.
A self-described mixture of country and city, Belcher said the Valley’s location lets him swim off both ends of the cultural pool.
The Valley’s spot on the map also housed an early challenge for Belcher: Mount Si’s perception as the “hick” school, academically worse than its wealthier neighbors.
“When I first heard of this job, I spent a lot of time researching the Valley,” he said. “And it looked great. But when I got here, I spent a lot of time talking to people who had a very bad perception of the school.”
Changing the community’s image of Mount Si became crucial for Belcher.
“A lot of what people talk about are things that happened five years ago,” he said. “We are not the school we were one or two or three years ago.”
People, he said, should consider all of the students reaching college or earning scholarship money when measuring the school’s quality.
“There’s a positive growth going on,” he added.
Along with successes came some low points.
Longtime athletics secretary Valerie Meyers died of a heart condition in the winter. A sophomore committed suicide in the spring.
Belcher said Meyers told him many times she disliked missing work. She missed the students.
When Meyers died, those chats helped Belcher, he said.
“She wanted people to carry on, she came to work every day,” she said. “That was enough for me to get up in front of people and say, ‘We support students and we carry on. That’s what Val wants.’”
When a student committed suicide in April, Belcher said having a staff with experience in dealing with similar tragedies helped.
“There’s a whole support system in place,” he said. “One thing the community doesn’t know that might be good to know is that we have a whole network of community members that came in to support us.”
The student’s suicide fed people’s perception of Mount Si as an unsafe place for students.
Belcher defended his school.
“Safety is the product of two personalities,” he said. “I have never experienced kids who want a safe experience not to get it.”
The hardest thing about safety and bullying, he said, is to define them. Everybody has a definition.
“Is it possible to have a perfect marriage? A perfect friendship? A perfect school?” he asked “That is the goal and we are working our tails off for that.”
Belcher said he has seen less drama, conflict and fights at this school, which is four times the size of his last one.
“The biggest source of conflict is the social networks,” he said. “People don’t say face-to-face the things they say on Facebook.”
Social networks occupy time that the school cannot supervise, Belcher said, making it hard to resolve when parents come to the school asking for intervention.
“A way to solve it,” he said, “is don’t let your kids do Facebook.”
Belcher said he took the job with the expectation of opening a freshman campus. Then, he said, he arrived and had to justify it to people.
“That was a lot of lost time that could have been focused on the job at hand and planning for the future,” he said. “My No. 1 goal this year was to build relationships and it was kind of hard to build something that was kind of creating a divide.”
Moreover, he came to the Valley believing it had made up its mind.
“That’s what I mean by lost time,” he said. “Spending time away from students, guiding a community that I had thought had already made a decision.”
Still, he does not regret the leap from Omak to Snoqualmie. It’s his job, his community and his home, having bought a house in North Bend.
“This job has exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I am really impressed with the community support and wholeheartedly impressed with the staff and student body. This is by far the best.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or email@example.com.