Sen. Sam Hunt AWSP’s 2021 Torch of Leadership Award Winner
AWSP is thrilled to announce that our 2021 Torch of Leadership Award is presented to Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia).
Sen. Hunt was elected to the Senate in 2016 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is chair of the State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee and is also a member of the Ways & Means and Early Learning & K-12 Education committees. He also serves on several legislative committees and volunteers with the National Institute for Civil Discourse, working to promote and improve civility among members of state legislatures. Sen. Hunt is a champion of both students and educators. His 2021 budget proviso resulted in a $10 million appropriation for Outdoor School for All. The Washington School Principal’s Education Foundation is managing these funds. Starting this fall, districts can use them to help pay for fifth- or sixth-graders to attend outdoor residential camps across Washington. As a member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, Sen. Hunt also sponsored and supported many other education bills, as well as bills related to retirement benefits, voting rights, and elections. Here are some questions we recently asked Sen. Hunt. We hope you get to know him a bit better and we look forward to more work together with him on behalf of students and principals!
1. Tell us about your professional experiences and why you got into politics.
I grew up in Yakima and became interested in politics because my parents were strongly interested. Dad was an air traffic controller, and his federal job was subject to the Hatch Act, which prohibited involvement in partisan politics. There were very few elected Democrats in Yakima, and he had to be careful. So, he would drop me off at the local Democratic headquarters to pick up candidate information that I also read and discussed. One of the volunteers asked if I would like to help on a campaign, and I said yes. So that seventh-grader spent the next weekend putting up yard signs for Gov. Rosellini and was hooked on politics.
At WSU I was president of the Young Democrats. I began my teaching career in Pasco and was twice elected to the Pasco City Council, serving two terms as deputy mayor.
A great opportunity was getting to move to Washington, D.C., and work for U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson as the education staff person on the Appropriations Committee. That included helping write legislation creating the Department of Education.
In 1980, I returned to Washington and a job with the Washington State Senate and then K-12 adviser to Gov. Gardner. From there I moved to the Department of Information Services (DIS) and served as legislative director. While at DIS, I was twice elected to the North Thurston School Board. In 2000 I was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives and served there until my election to the Washington State Senate in 2016.
2. School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to research done by the Wallace Foundation. Describe your vision of the role of school principals in schools today.
The school principal should be the leader of the school, setting the tone and aspirations for staff, students, and the school community. The best schools are the ones that have strong, effective leaders as principals.
3. Many principals find joy and satisfaction in their work. Yet, only one out of four principals are in the same building after five years. This high rate of turnover is costly in terms of dollars, time, relationships, and – most importantly – impact on student learning. Read the most recent research here. Why is there such high turnover and what are some solutions for stopping the churn?
School principals live in a pressure cooker environment. Their work is never done. When good things happen they sometimes get thanked or praised, but when something goes awry, they usually get the blame. There are not enough hours in the day, nor is there enough staff to help meet the school’s needs. One thing we should do is add more counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals to help address those needs. There is always enough money to pay a college football coach in our state over $3 million dollars, but never enough to pay principals adequately.
4. COVID-19 has radically changed education over the past few months. Districts are concerned about increased costs, future budget cuts, staff shortages, and trying to meet the varying needs of each and every student in their buildings. We know there are disparities in education funding from district to district as well. What do you see as potential fixes for the continued disparities in education funding and potential future budget considerations for the education community?
Even though I get bashed for saying it, we have too many state K-12 administrative bodies — OSPI, State Board of Education, Workforce Training Board, Professional Educators Standards Board, educational service districts, etc. We need to consolidate these to create more effective coordination.
There are also too many school districts. Having 295 districts, many of them with fewer than 2,000 students, shows the need for consolidation. It’s not about closing schools but saving on administrative costs.
5. Like many organizations, AWSP issued a statement in response to the protests that began after George Floyd was murdered. Our racial equity statement can be found here. What are your thoughts about racial equity and the role that schools and educators can play in working to address systemic racism and unwind historically inequitable systems and practices?
The AWSP statement is right on target. Principals must be leaders and set examples as we all work for equality in education and our lives.
6. Principals are concerned with the lack of mental health resources for students. What specific kinds of support and/or solutions would you offer around mental health resources and what steps will you take to make this happen?
As mentioned above, we need more mental health professionals in our schools. The increased emphasis on racial equality and added stresses resulting from COVID show the increasing need to recognize and deal with mental health problems among students and staff. Principals are the school leaders and need to recognize and deal with the need for mental health resources.
7. What do you see as the Legislature’s role in helping students in the state of Washington find success?
It’s all about the money. The Legislature’s primary duty is to provide the necessary funds and resources to enable our schools to address the many needs of their students. Providing leadership and advocacy are also important.
8. Who was your favorite principal and why?
This is an easy one! My dad was my favorite principal. After a 25 year career as an air traffic controller, he finished college and became an educator. He was vice principal at Franklin Junior High and principal at Washington Junior High and Stanton Elementary in Yakima. While I did not attend any of these schools (we lived in the West Valley district), his advocacy, strong leadership and help for students and families was admirable. As I went through college and then entered the teaching profession, my dad was a fountain of support and good information for a new teacher was most beneficial.
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Washington Principal | Volume 1– 2021-22