New MTHS principal ready to welcome students next month

Crosby Carpenter, the new principal of Mountlake Terrace High School, stands in front of the Hawk that graces the school’s main concourse.

Twenty years ago, after a challenging first year teaching high schoolers, Crosby Carpenter almost gave up on his career choice of education. But now the new principal of Mountlake Terrace High School speaks enthusiastically about his time in classrooms, in high school administration and with his new opportunity to lead staff and students at Terrace.

“It’s going to be an adventure,” Carpenter said of the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. “I’m excited.”

Carpenter comes to Terrace after serving as principal of Liberty Bell High School in Winthrop for the past four years and in the same post at Chelan High School for four years before that. He had also previously taught high school classes at Chelan and Granite Falls High Schools.

But all those years teaching and in school administration almost didn’t happen after Carpenter walked away from a teaching job on the Navajo nation in New Mexico.

“I was 23,” Carpenter explained, “and then I decided I was too young to be a teacher. I moved to Seattle and — I had done some carpentry building in college — so I got a job with a construction company. And I then started my own construction company.”

It wasn’t too long before Carpenter felt the call to go back into teaching. He left construction work, returned to Western Washington University where he had obtained his undergraduate degree, earned a masters of education and then landed a teaching position at Granite Falls, where he taught career and technical education classes in business, marketing and entrepreneurship. The administrative positions at Chelan and Liberty Bell soon followed.

Now at Mountlake Terrace, Carpenter is hastily preparing for the start of the 2023-2024 school year. His new office at the school is dominated by a large table, a white board that Carpenter hung on one wall himself and boxes of unpacked papers, supplies and personal items in one corner.

“I kind of dove into working and not decorating,” Carpenter explained. “I kind of dove right in the beginning of July with my assistant principals; I haven’t really set aside the time to make this place very homey yet but I’ll get there, I promise.”

Crosby Carpenter is excited to welcome students back to Mountlake Terrace High School for the start of the new school year on Sept. 6. “I just want kids in the building,” he said.

Though brand new at the school, Carpenter already is seeing similarities between Terrace and the much-smaller schools of Granite Falls, Chelan and Liberty Bell where he had previously been.

“The number-one thing I hear is a strong sense of community pride,” Carpenter said of Mountlake Terrace. “The number of people I have met who work here or who have ties here, who have gone to school here or who graduated from here and are still somehow involved with the school culture, I would say is unique for an urban-ish school. I think you see that in rural areas where people either never leave or they’re third- or fourth-generation (graduates). I wasn’t expecting that here. It’s pretty cool.” 

“It’s pretty cool to see how much pride people take in their school community,” he added.

It’s understandable how Carpenter refers to Mountlake Terrace as a much more urban setting. Enrollment figures at rural Granite Falls High School (approximately 550 students), Chelan High School (just over 400 students) and Liberty Bell High School (less than 275 students) pale in comparison to the size of Terrace, which is expected to have an enrollment of more than 1,300 students this year.

As for the teaching, programs and activities inside the walls of Mountlake Terrace High School, Carpenter is already speaking favorably. “What I do know is there’s some pretty impressive things happening here,” he said.

“There’s some pretty outstanding programs (and) just some really unique opportunities for kids,” Carpenter expounded. “There’s some pretty fantastic sports teams but there’s a great performing arts program, there’s a journalism program, there’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics); and there just seems like there’s a little something for everybody. If you’re interested and wanting to get involved, there’s opportunity for you.”

Student test scores at Terrace are on par with or higher than the averages inside the Edmonds School District (38.2% of students meeting state math standards compared to a district average of 38.8%; 49.9% of students meeting science standards compared to 41.7% for the district and 63.2% of students meeting English language arts standards compared to 50.9 % for the district). But Carpenter feels as though he is in a position to help the school increase its educational performance.

“I think it’s an opportunity when you have a new leader come in for the organization to hit the pause button and reflect on what it is that we’re doing well, what are some of our opportunities for growth, what’s some of the low-hanging fruit — maybe (with) technical solutions — that we can just take care of right now,” Carpenter said. 

“And I think you’re asking that question of staff, you’re asking that question of students, you’re asking that question of the community,” he continued. “What do we value? What direction do we want to head? What are we celebrating? What are our strengths of the community? A portion of the next few months is asking those questions and giving people time to process.”

Just weeks into his tenure at Terrace, Carpenter has already been meeting faculty members and staff and is encouraged with the potential for growth.

“What I’ve learned, people care deeply about what they do, they’re passionate about what they do and they’re excited to have this opportunity to reflect on practices and talk about how we collectively move forward and do better than how they have been doing,” Carpenter said.

While anxious to jump right in and lead, Carpenter also acknowledged that he isn’t coming into the Terrace post believing that he has all the answers. “You’ve just got to put yourself out there and throw yourself in — and realize you’re going to make mistakes and hopefully you don’t make big mistakes,” he said. “I’m a big fan of listening and learning.”

The new school year will begin as some districtwide cuts that were hotly debated last spring are now in full effect. Terrace lost some FTE (full-time equivalent) staffing hours in its music and drama departments; Carpenter is keeping those cuts in mind as he is meeting with school staff, asking them how he can support and advocate for them.

“I think the hard part for building leaders (school principals and administrators), especially new building leaders, is what we’re dealing with in terms of budget cuts, is really an issue of funding at the state level,” he said. “And so it takes a while for that to catch up. So at this time we’re playing the hand that we’re dealt.”

While meeting the faculty and staff has been rewarding over the past few weeks, Carpenter can’t help but look ahead to when the more than 1,300 students start coming through the doors of Terrace to begin the school year next month.

“I love the first day of school,” he said. “We get an opportunity to come together as a staff on Aug. 31 so we’ll have some good conversations that day. Teachers will have some time to make sure they are ready for kids but then Sept. 6 kids are back. I’m just really, really excited to get them back in the building.”

— Story and photos by Doug Petrowski

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