By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — Holly Leach, principal of Northshore Christian Academy, had no idea what was happening when she was interrupted at a back-to-school assembly last fall. A television camera crew had come up on stage behind her and she suddenly found herself being presented with the KING-TV Best of Western Washington award for Best Principal.
“It was very exciting,” Leach said. “They kept it secret. I had no idea.”
It wasn’t the first award that Leach or the school had won, but it meant a lot. Leach knew that the award represented the votes of a lot of happy families and many of those families came to Northshore Christian Academy under her tenure.
When Leach took charge of the school in 2000, there were about 300 students. Now there are more than 900 students and it features one of the largest preschool and day-care centers in Snohomish County. Families come to Northshore from 122 local churches and include those who are not religious but want an education for their children that includes character development.
There is no doubt that the school’s location has helped it grow. Near Boeing in the heart of Everett’s high technology corridor, working parents appreciate the convenience of being able to drop the kids off on the way to work and pick them up on the way home.
“We want to have a neighborhood feel though we’re not a neighborhood school,” Leach said, “We’re a carpool-with-mom-and-dad-to-work school.”
The campus at 5700 23rd Drive W. with its new buildings looks like a school one would find tucked into a suburban neighborhood. The architecture is attractive. There are green play fields and views of Port Gardner. But Leach remembers back in 2000, when she was first considering applying for the principal position, how Northshore Christian Academy began in a bleak, temporary warehouse across the street from Boeing.
She took the job because she was impressed with how the staff, parents and students all tried to make the inside of the school something special. They started in one warehouse and grew into another. Even now, situated on the new campus, Leach asks parents, students and staff to remember their roots in that warehouse.
“It’s what is inside those walls that need to be dynamic and special,” Leach said. “It’s never about the building.”
Leach describes herself as a visionary with high expectations. She wants to see everyone work joyfully to their full potential. She sees the school as growing the leaders of tomorrow and wants all students to get all they can out of their private-school education.
To that end, she leads a school with a curriculum rich in science and technology. There is a science lab classroom, two computer labs and two mobile labs. After-school enrichment classes are also available.
Leach is aware that private schooling is a financial stretch for many families and economic circumstances may mean that a child won’t be able to stay at Northshore Christian Academy long term. She uses this as motivation for her staff, reminding them that they need to make the current year the best and most important year for each student.
The results of this philosophy have been good. The school is a seven-time national award winner and half of the second- through eighth-grade students are in advanced mathematics. At a time when public schools are cutting music programs to save money, Northshore offers general music education in every grade and maintains three orchestras, four bands and four choirs.
“We would have the potential of raising our tuition higher if we wanted to,” Leach said. “But our mission is to try and balance our income with our expenses so we can try to be as affordable as possible. We would rather be reachable for more families.”
The desire to help as many people as possible comes naturally to Leach. She was raised in a family of public servants. Her father was a city manager and her mother was a school teacher. Volunteerism was the norm in her family and she found herself involved with many nonprofits early in her career.
She has been the director of a residential facility for children with multiple handicaps and, with her husband, ran an orphanage in a Third World country. It was with the orphanage, with so many agencies that had to come together for the children and their families, where Leach believes she developed the skills to become a good school principal.
It also was there that she learned that while all children have the same basic needs, each is unique. Leach takes time to know every student by name and watches them achieve their potential in academic, social, spiritual, emotional and physical realms. She also relies on her faith.
“We are always learning,” Leach said. “We don’t stand still and we are always looking to improve so that we can maximize our efforts.”