RAHS founder Reba Gilman
Sept. 3, 2014, marks the first student day of the 2014-15 school year and the debut of Bruce Kelly as the new sheriff in town. Reba Gilman will be moving across the street and working hard to launch a new initiative of both The Museum of Flight and Highline School District to help students all across the region.
Gilman’s new title at the Museum of Flight will be Executive Director of Lighthouse Education Initiatives, which means she will be helping schools, districts, and community partners develop programs based on the RAHS model, and working with them to achieve their goals.
According to an announcement letter recently sent to students, staff, and families, Gilman will “lead efforts to build upon the best practices of RAHS and The Museum of Flight to develop new education initiatives that benefit students and communities where there is a strong need for STEM-proficient workers.”
“Essentially, what I want to do is honor the promise we made to people, which was that this would not just be a school for 400 students, that we would have other Aviation High School models,” said Gilman. “Maybe not exactly the same, but using the same practices around college and career readiness, and inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, around a particular context.”
Taking Gilman’s place next year as CEO and Principal of RAHS is Bruce Kelly, who will officially assume his new position on July 1, 2014. He has been Assistant Principal since the 2011-12 school year, and is well equipped to take the reigns.
“He fully understands the vision of the school, and there are no better hands ready to take the yoke,” said Theda “Mamma H” Hiranaka, the RAHS Office Assistant since 2006. “Mr. Kelly is fully supportive and knowledgeable of the RAHS flight path and is ready to take us on through the next stage of our flight.”
Mr. Kelly has some big shoes to fill, and Gilman offered a few words of advice to her successor.
“I would say ‘enjoy it,’ and know that there is going to be ups and downs in leading a school,” said Gilman, “but rely upon the students and the staff to be your guides. A leader is not the be-all, end-all, full-of-wisdom leader, they are the person who helps put structure around things and keeps the vision.”
Gilman also emphasized that a good school leader is always focused on what is best for students.
“Students should be at the center of everything [a principal] does,” said Gilman.
Throughout her years with the school, Gilman has certainly followed her own advice. Marcie Wombold, who has been with the school since the beginning, said Gilman has been involved in all the major changes, but also trusted her staff and colleagues to “continue moving forward.”
“Part of developing the school model in the beginning was agreeing upon curriculum and standards,” said Wombold. “Reba was intimately involved in that process, by bringing in expertise and resources, but also by working the process with us.”
Gilman was also instrumental in developing the staff and academic program at RAHS from the very start, and her support has left a lasting impact on students and teachers alike.
”Reba has encouraged me to think outside the box, to look past tradition, and to do what is right for my students,” said Wombold. “But more personally, Reba consistently has asked me for more; she has held me to a high standard and supported me when I did that for my own students.”
Although Gilman will be sorely missed, she plans to stay involved at RAHS. At the Senior Rose Ceremony on June 4, she told seniors to come back and visit, because she definitely plans to maintain a presence at the school.
“I’m really glad that I’m just going across the street,” said Gilman. “My goal is to continue to work with the staff here to look at how we could replicate this model, we have a lot of work to do to figure out what we all can offer. Part of my job will still be to work with all of you here at [RAHS], I just won’t have my office here.”
Before RAHS, Gilman worked at SeaTac Occupational Skills Center for 16 years, and said it was part of her inspiration to start RAHS years ago. The technical school focused more on learning the hands-on, physical details of a trade, like carpentry, but failed to give students the necessary academic teaching required in the working world.
“What I really saw was a need to blend that academic rigor with hands-on, technical learning,” said Gilman. “That was my goal, because when [I was] running the tech school, kids came, and for many years, they could do the hands-on work without having super strong academic skills, but as industry standards became prominent and as college standards increased, we knew we needed to meet some place in the middle so that our kids were ready to go on to college and career.”
The success of RAHS today hides the much of the struggle that went into its creation; despite its many accomplishments along the way, it was not an easy journey. Gilman said finding a permanent home was one of the greatest challenges, especially one that accommodated the unique features of an project-based STEM school.
“No question, we are a rare entity here—HSD is a steward of the school, we located the school in the city of tukwila, and we’re in the seattle school district boundaries,” said Gilman. “I feared for a long time that we wouldn’t have a permanent location and that we wouldn’t have the resources to build something new. Getting private industry to come forward and help build the school, and being able to fight the political battles to be here, that was the greatest challenge. But it was worth it.”
It has been over a decade of struggle to make it home, but it has also been over a decade of reward.
“The greatest triumph I think is just watching students come through here who really want to be in a place of learning like this. The most rewarding thing has been to see students show up year after year and really put their heart and soul into helping make this place wonderful.”