Christine McDaniel

Incoming Kelso High School Principal Christine McDaniel is already plenty familiar with the Hilanders' traditions from her time as a teacher and student.

Future Kelso High School Principal Christine McDaniel has had a teaching career oddly similar to her own education. The Kelso native attended Barnes Elementary School, Coweeman Middle School and then Kelso High School. Shortly thereafter, she started her teaching career at Barnes, then moved to Coweeman and later Kelso High.

In total, McDaniel has 22 years of experience in education, all of which has been spent in the Kelso district. She also has worked with every grade level other than third and fifth grades.

McDaniel, currently the principal at Barnes Elementary School, will replace Principal John Gummel at Kelso High when he moves to the Pioneer School District in July.

“It has been nice to come back and teach in the schools where I went to school because I have such a personal connection to them. I feel so possessive over the success,” McDaniel said Monday.

McDaniel, 46, got her start in education during her senior year of high school when she joined the teacher cadet program and worked alongside Coweeman teacher Roger Whitright. She also said Butler Acres teacher Margaret Soderman’s presentation to the cadet group guided her toward the field.

“She said that teaching was the most rewarding career and there was nothing that you could do that mattered more than teaching … I remember thinking she was so right,” McDaniel said.

After attending Washington State University, McDaniel immediately returned to Kelso classrooms. She has been an elementary teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher and instructional coach.

McDaniel also has worked in the district office training teachers and administrators on the instructional framework, a system of evaluation criteria outlined by the state.

In 2015, she returned to Barnes as principal. When asked if McDaniel would be a good fit for Kelso High, Barnes special education teacher Kelli Stewart said “I think she absolutely does because her history is rich in cross-grade level experience.”

Mary Kanaly, a parent volunteer, said Tuesday that McDaniel is a great principal because she has such a great rapport with students.

“To be compassionate and still be a disciplinary figure is harder than it sounds. She handles that extremely well … (and) I think it’ll transfer to high school students too,” Kanaly said.

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Stewart also said McDaniel supports teachers. “She’s about lifting up staff morale. She’s really all about Kelso.”

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said McDaniel was the best match for the district’s expectations, as well as Kelso High’s.

“Very high on (the school’s) list was a good, clear communicator — somebody who knows Kelso High School and what Kelso High School means not only to the people that work there, but also the community,” he said.

Gelbrich also said the school is looking for “somebody who’s visible and present at school (and) somebody who’s consistent in their decision making. … Christine has all those qualities.”

Both Gelbrich and incoming superintendent Mary Beth Tack said McDaniel was the right pick because of her commitment to a 100 percent graduation rate.

“100 percent started out as being around graduation rate,” Tack said, “but it has grown into 100 percent of students not only graduating, but having a plan (after) high school. I think that part Christine brings to the work.”

Gelbrich echoed her sentiment: “The thing that will get us to where we are now to 100 percent is individual kids … that’s a strength of Christine’s: to know each child.”

Though the 2018-19 school year is still months away, McDaniel already has plans to continue to improve Kelso High’s graduation rate, equity issues and alternative education programs.

McDaniel’s close connection to Kelso is yet another reason she stood out from other candidates, according to Gelbrich.

In fact, McDaniel is the ultimate Hilander. She was a third generation Kelso High graduate, and her three sons also attended the school. On Tuesday, she joked that her two-year-old granddaughter would be the fifth generation graduate, though she has more than a decade of schooling to complete first.

Gelbrich said Tuesday that “Christine is a Kelso kid. … She’s deeply connected in the community. She has not only a sense of pride around doing good work on behalf of this community, she has a sense of responsibility to the community.”

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