The principal’s office at Wallace Elementary will have a new face this fall.
Ray Cattin, assistant principal and athletic director at Kelso High School for the last decade, will replace Jill Steele, who left to teach at Washington State University in Vancouver.
Steele was making a base salary of $103,660 at her departure.
Cattin said his experience as an athletic director will help him focus on building a community, especially at the elementary level, which in turn will affect how students succeed through middle and high school.
“We talk about being a system, a K through 12 system,” Cattin said. “We need to start having our kids at this level see that it’s more of a system and that we’re part of the same thing.”
He’s taking over one of the area’s most impoverished schools. Nearly 92 percent of the Wallace students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and more than half of the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders did not meet state language arts and math testing standards in the 2014-15 school year, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website.
“Wallace is a high-energy school. It’s a neighborhood school, so a lot of things the school does affect everybody in the neighborhood,” said Lacey DeWeert, a Kelso High teacher who spent one day a week at Wallace over the past school year as a quality instruction administrator.
“That’s something that Ray can match,” DeWeert said. “He does an amazing job communicating with people, making people feel comfortable and safe.”
Cattin already has plans to add to the sense of community at Wallace. He has already commissioned a new logo for the school featuring the Wallace wolf mascot over a large red and black “W.” Cattin plans to use the design for a new entryway banner as well as for T-shirts for students and staff.
“It’s one of the first steps toward building that culture and climate,” Cattin said. He also plans on taking Kelso high school’s “C.L.A.N.” motto and repurposing the idea for the elementary school. Cattin wants students and staff to think of themselves as part of the “P.A.C.K.” which in turn stands for perseverance, academics, community and kindness.
Cattin was adamant about the “C” meaning “community,” just as it does in Kelso’s motto.
Wallace Elementary is on an alternative school year calendar, meaning that in addition to the standard winter and spring breaks at Kelso schools, students also receive a week off in October, February and May, and every Monday in June. Wallace kids then get eight weeks off in the summer, instead of the standard 10 to 12 weeks at other schools.
“It takes a little while to get the pace of the building,” DeWeert said. Cattin’s challenges also include familiarizing himself with the curriculum and lingo of elementary educators.
Though Cattin did not have his sights set on the position at first, when it did open up he saw an opportunity to grow professionally and explore new challenges. While his education and administrative experience is entirely in secondary education, his history with Kelso goes back to the beginning of his career.
An Eastern Washington University graduate, Cattin completed his student teaching at Kelso High School. He spent three years at the high school as an English teacher before moving to Las Vegas to “try something different” and teach at the city’s Chaparral High School.
Within a year, Cattin was back in Kelso again, where he took a teaching position at Coweeman Middle School for seven years.
“I loved it so much,” Cattin said. “I would have never in a million years thought that would be it for me.”
He then returned to Kelso High once more, where he served for the past 10 years as the seventh athletic director in the school’s history. Now he’ll be the seventh principal at Wallace.
Kelso superintendent Glenn Gelbrich mentioned at a July 11 school board meeting that though Cattin’s title is “interim principal,” he hoped Cattin’s appointment might be more permanent than the title suggests.
“He’s enthusiastic, and he’s smart,” said Adele Marshall, former principal of Kelso High School, who met Cattin while the two worked at Coweeman. “He’s really a people person. And he’s never lost sight of that importance of the teacher in the classroom.”