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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2022-23
Washington State Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year:
Jessica Buchan
Renton High’s Jessica Buchan ‘never gives up’
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture; Ensuring School Safety, Planning with Data, Aligning Curriculum, Improving Instruction, Managing Resources, Engaging Families & Communities, Closing the Gap
Like her students, Renton High Assistant Principal Jessica Buchan’s life was upended by the pandemic. But she used that crisis to help them find their footing - and her own as a school leader.

Buchan’s career as an assistant principal began at Dimmit Middle in the Renton School District. After four years, in the midst of the pandemic, she moved to the feeder school, Renton High.
As a middle level AP, each year was looped, so she was able to stay with her students. That familiarity helped her settle into her new role at Renton – and helped her students settle into high school – from the very first day.
“I vividly remember the first day of high school, watching students get off the bus and see me – the look of recognition and relief in their eyes was undeniable,” said Buchan. “ They were so happy to see me and find a sense of familiarity. Moving up to the high school with them was especially valuable after remote learning and students were not only regathering at school for the first time in a year and half, but they were also starting in a new building, and many were overwhelmed.”
Whether through her instructional leadership skills, her equity-centered leadership focusing on each students’ needs, or her impact on culture, climate, and community, Buchan helps make Renton High School a better place for everyone.
From that moment, Buchan has worked to emulate the social and emotional supports that the middle school provided for students within the high school. It wasn’t a direct “copy and paste” from middle to high school, but Buchan was able to take the concepts and apply what worked at the high school.
“Achieving a positive school culture does not happen overnight, it takes intentionality and practice,” said Gioia Pitts, chief of secondary schools for Renton School DIstrict. “Jessica always looks for the positive in every situation. She knows a positive school culture provides support through encouraging relationships and healthy communication among students, staff, and administrators. She also knows having a positive climate impacts how safe students feel in the classroom environment, directly influencing their success,” she wrote in her nomination of Buchan.
“Building a positive school climate centers on equity and focuses on diversity and inclusion of students and staff. These efforts impact how students engage and have an influence on their actions and Ms. Buchan champions these efforts.” ‘Is it Good for the Kids?’ Taking pride in her instructional leadership, Buchan coaches teachers on a variety of pedagogical practices. This allows teachers to increase challenges for students and, at the same time, provide support and access for students furthest from educational justice. Buchan values all voices and makes an effort to seek out traditionally underrepresented groups when making decisions, from hourly staff not often present in meetings to parents working multiple jobs who might not be able to attend events or have a presence at the school.
In her time at Renton High School, her leadership has helped the school create systems and structures to help student achievement and increase student attendance. For example, the amount of students attending 95-100 percent of the time has increased by 20 percent. Not only are more students there, more often, but the ASB has become more representative of student voice and their actions more relevant to the school community.
“When discussing new initiatives, Jessica always brings the discussion back to ‘Is this good for kids?’ If it’s good for kids, it’s hard to go wrong,” said Pitts. “She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of students. This involves reaching all students, motivating the unmotivated, and building authentic relationships. She never gives up.”
Ms. Buchan ‘Sees Me’ Buchan’s positive influence has also re-energized the Renton High School ASB, which has become more representative of student voice and activities relevant to the school community as a direct result of her involvement. Buchan has allowed student leadership to take the initiative and trusted the leadership process. She worked with student leaders to launch a school wide student leadership vision and allowed student voice to be honored.
Also, under Ms. Buchan’s leadership, the school’s EWIS team has created systems and structures that have made impacts on student attendance and academic achievement. As a result, the student attendance rate has increased from 52% to 72% of students attending 95% to 100% of the time.
According to the students, “Ms. Buchan sees me.”
Whether through her instructional leadership skills, her equity-centered leadership focusing on each students’ needs, or her impact on culture, climate, and community, Buchan helps make Renton High School a better place for everyone. Nowhere does this show up more than in her desire to keep what’s best for kids front and center.
“The job of a high school assistant principal is filled with many challenges and rewards,” said Dr. Damien Pattenaude, superintendent of Renton School District. “While all school staff work in unison each day to provide students with meaningful education, it is outstanding that Jessica’s hard work in this role as well as her commitment to serving students, families, and staff is being honored by AWSP.”

Watch Jessica’s video on YouTube.