District bids farewell to longtime principal Tom Athanases
June 20, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
At a high school graduation, the loudest ovation went to a man who graduated decades ago.
At the Two Rivers School commencement June 6, each student received a white carnation to give to someone special.
And 62-year-old Tom Athanases got a handful of them. Students cheered almost every time his name was mentioned.
“Two Rivers is part of Tom’s legacy,” said Valley Schools Superintendent Joel Aune at a June 12 event honoring Athanases, who will retire June 30 after 33 years in education and 25 at the district. “Tom is an example of someone who long after he’s gone from the district, his legacy will be alive and well.”
All but Athanases’ last year in the district happened at Two Rivers.
He taught at Two Rivers for four years before becoming the school’s principal for the next 20.
“We were at Mount Si High School for two years and then moved to Boalch Avenue, where the police station is now,” Athanases said, referring to the North Bend offices of the King County Sheriff’s Office. “And we were over there until they built the new building.”
Former school board member Rudy Edwards reminisced about the early efforts to get Two Rivers built.
“The only thing we didn’t get through to the city of North Bend,” he said with a smile, “was the color of the building. We wanted a different color.”
The blue color remained, and so did Athanases.
“When we first started out, there was an idea to make the school easier,” Athanases said. “We took a stance that we were going to make it different than, not easier than.”
Athanases was the school’s second principal and kept the same position until last year, when he became the district’s coordinator of alternative programs, overseeing the retention and return of potential dropouts.
“These students would not be here today if not for Tom’s efforts,” Aune said.
Athanases said he hoped the program would remain.
“We’ll see if the district will fund it,” he said. “I think they will.”
In his last year, Athanases also directed a program aimed at home-schooled students. There’s no doubt, he said, that program will continue.
“That’s off the ground, ready to go,” he said.
Replacing him as chair will be Amy Montanye-Johnson, who replaced him as Two Rivers principal.
Athanases said the Valley community has powered the success of Two Rivers for a quarter century.
“You have a community that understands a school like Two Rivers,” he said.
More than 450 students graduated from Two Rivers during Athanases’ 24 years.
Some people may still think of an alternative school as a hangout for dropouts, Athanases said, but the reality is different. It’s a school of choice.
“My line always was, ‘To know us was to love us,’” he said. “Tell people to come in and talk to the students and you’ll get a good understanding of why they are here.”
Moreover, circumstances will always need a program like Two Rivers, he added.
“I think there’ll always be a place for the students who just don’t fit,” he said. “Those who look at the big school and say, ‘I need something more personal.’”
Witness of that is Cedar Athanases. As a freshman in Bellingham’s Western Washington University, he met a fellow student who told him about his past, and how lost he felt after he dropped out of Mount Si High School.
The student also told him about the help he received from a man he met at Two Rivers.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about Tom Athanases? That’s my dad,’” Cedar said.
Tom Athanases said he tried to make sure he knew every Two Rivers student, developing a relationship with each one.
“One of the keys to working in alternative education is just being patient with students,” Athanases said. “It’s being really understanding and building a lot of respect.”