Mount Si High School principal says farewell after 11 years

On his first day as principal at Mount Si High School, while walking out to watch the school’s football team during summer practice, John Belcher was surprised to learn the team had 30 assistant coaches.

For Belcher, coming from his previous gig as principal at Omak High School in northeastern Washington — where he knew every student by name — the number of volunteers spoke to the size difference between Omak and Mount Si.

“It was kind of that awareness that I’m in the big leagues now,” he said. “I was just feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out how I was going to do what I was excellent at all my career, which is be a kid magnet, really honor and listen to kids and know kids.”

Eleven years later, after much success at connecting with students, Belcher is in his final days as principal at Mount Si. Starting in July, he’ll take the new role as the superintendent of the Cle Elum-Roslyn School District.

Since that first day, Belcher has been a driving force for change at Mount Si, seen both in improved test scores and graduation rates, but also through growing community support for the school and a more inclusive environment for students.

Earlier this month, he was recognized for those achievements, being named the Outstanding Educator of the Year by the Washington State Parent-Teacher Association.

Belcher said when he first arrived, Mount Si had a poor perception from the community, with a culture that didn’t support post-secondary opportunities and with graduation rates and test scores below its potential. At the time ,the school was experiencing the full-effect of growth on Snoqualmie Ridge. This growth meant that, for much of the 2010s, freshman students were on a separate campus from the rest of the high school student body.

Today, despite these challenges, Belcher boasts that Mount Si is one of the best high schools in the state across the board. He attributed that success to support and a shared belief from teachers and the community that every student can learn and improve. The impact of this belief is shown in one Belcher’s favorite moments each year — graduation day.

“Kids come up to me personally and tell me things like ‘thanks for believing in me’ and ‘thanks for not giving up on me,’ ” he said. “To hear them express gratitude for believing in them and hanging on to them, that’s one success.”

For Belcher, who lives in Ronald, Wash., just outside Cle Elum, his new role allows him to help his home community and impact a greater variety of students. It also allows him to achieve a long-standing goal of being a superintendent for the first time.

“I feel like I’m leaving the school in a much better place than I found it and I’m ready to take on a new challenge,” he said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to influence a whole system.”

Still, he said it will be hard to leave the Mount Si community.

“My family has always felt really welcome here,” he said. “People have always treated me like one of their own.”