Hugh Maxwell, Evergreen Elementary School’s new principal. lPhoto by Colleen Slater, KP News

Hugh Maxwell, Evergreen Elementary School’s new principal, breaks into a grin as he recalls the warm welcome he has received in his first months on the job. He describes Evergreen as a “hidden gem” of a school. One he traveled nearly 400 miles to find.

After more than two decades working as a teacher and administrator in the Idaho public school system, Maxwell and his wife, Lori, grew weary of the state’s inadequate funding for education, and began looking with interest to the neighboring state of Washington. While acknowledging that funding for public schools has been difficult everywhere for the past few years, Maxwell had noticed that Washington state always kept education a priority.

“It seems like Washington has a stronger sense of why public schools are important,” Maxwell said.

With their youngest son off at college, the couple set their sights west.

Initially, Maxwell applied for administrator positions in schools up and down Puget Sound.  Then a friend in the area spoke highly of Peninsula School District, and with Maxwell’s experience as principal in small, rural Idaho schools, Evergreen seemed like a perfect fit.

“Hugh has worked in smaller schools and showed a great understanding of the sense of community that exists within a small school such as Evergreen, said Dan Gregory, PSD academic officer of K-12 education programs.

From the beginning, Maxwell appreciated how Peninsula School District worked with him to honor his current responsibilities as a principal in Idaho, even allowing him to Skype an interview and postponing school visits until his current school was on break.

Gregory said the hiring team found Maxwell a compelling candidate.

“Hugh’s track record as a solid leader at the elementary level and his successful work with Title 1 programs made him stand out from other candidates. He impressed members of the Evergreen staff during his interview, and had an excellent site visit where he showed he was an active listener with strong interpersonal skills to accompany his strong instructional leadership skills,” Gregory said.

Maxwell was hired in the spring, and his wife also found work in the area, teaching first-grade in Kent. The two of them settled in Tacoma as a midway point. Maxwell said that he is used to a commute and doesn’t mind the long drive out to the small Lakebay school.

This summer, the Maxwells enjoyed exploring the area, trying out the ferry to Seattle and meeting up with some of their cousins in neighboring counties.

 With the 2013-14 school year now well underway, Maxwell’s priority is to foster a safe, supportive learning environment for Evergreen’s approximately 240 students. So far, he said, relatively few students have been sent to his office for disciplinary reasons.

This is not by coincidence: Maxwell believes in being proactive about discipline, providing a clear definition of what is and is not acceptable behavior at school for all students.

“We pre-teach behavioral expectations and provide students opportunities to learn from their choices. We would like all students to be self-correcting, he said.

Maxwell said he is glad to join a school where students and staff alike show high levels of dedication to the learning process, and treat each other with respect.

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