Gas cost about 40 cents a gallon. The World Trade Center opened in New York. And the last U.S. combat troops had just left Vietnam. It was 1973, the year Betty Cobbs began teaching in Everett.
Without personal computers, cellphones or social media, that world was much different from the one kids encounter today. In 44 years, schools, families, and expectations for students have changed.
In all those years, Cobbs has been a constant in the Everett School District, mostly as a principal. She began her career as a teacher at Garfield Elementary School, where she had spent her last year of college. Cobbs is now Woodside Elementary School’s principal, a role she has filled since 2009.
At 66, she’s in no rush to retire. “It’s still quite a delight to work with students, and to see the potential they have,” Cobbs said Monday. “I just take it year by year.”
In May, Cobbs was given a Western Washington University 2017 Distinguished Alumni &Recognition Award, specifically the Woodring College of Education Alumni Award. Along with winners of a dozen other WWU awards, she was honored at a dinner May 18. The event, which she attended with her husband, Zebedee Cobbs, was part of Western Washington University’s Back2Bellingham reunion weekend.
On Tuesday, Cobbs was recognized during a meeting of the Everett School Board. The WWU award was a surprise, she said, and “the greatest honor I think I could receive — and it’s been the greatest honor to work with kids.”
Cobbs, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WWU and a doctorate from the University of Washington, grew up in Tacoma and was the first in her family to attend college. She taught or was principal at Garfield, Jefferson, Hawthorne, Jackson and now Woodside.
When she started in 1988 as principal at Garfield, where she would be for 11 years, some teachers remembered her as a college student intern there in the early 1970s. Cobbs also worked in the Everett district’s human resources department, assisting new teachers.
Francisco Rios, dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western, was in Everett on Tuesday for the school board meeting. Rios said Cobbs “exemplifies what our college is all about.”
“She is a pillar in the community, given all the different things she has done,” he said.
Cobbs has served on Everett’s civil service and parks and recreation commissions. She has been on a Professional Education Advisory Board at UW Bothell and the Everett Community College Board of Trustees. She has worked with the Imagine Children’s Museum, Everett Performing Arts Center and the Everett Youth Symphony.
Through civic engagement, Cobbs brings an example of being a “servant leader citizen to her work,” Rios said. Noting that Cobbs was the district’s first African-American principal, he said she cares deeply about diversity, access and inclusion.
In 44 years, Cobbs has seen big changes.
“There are greater needs that we serve, not only with academics, but with social and emotional needs,” she said Monday. “There are students who need intervention and students who need acceleration. You have to do it all.
“We have a pretty rigorous program. We have to teach Common Core, state and grade-level standards, and do assessments,” Cobbs said. “We have an obligation to make sure students are learning.”
There have been changes in families, too. “People are spread out all over the country. Families may not have grandparents, aunts or other relatives in the area,” she said. “In school, we’re scheduled all the time for everything. Families are the same way.”
Cobbs has encountered students whose grandparents she taught. “It’s very heart-warming,” she said. Every now and then, a student from long ago will contact her. “When things have worked out well, and they’ve made accomplishments, they want to share that,” she said.
Cobbs was inspired by her own second-grade teacher. She advises anyone interested in an education career to spend time in a classroom.
“It’s not easy work. It’s hard work. It’s heart work,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.