Dunn comes full circle as Shadle Park's new principal

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Jim Allen, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
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May 4—When the news filtered through the halls of Shadle Park High School that Chris Dunn would be the new principal, the reaction was an affirmation for everyone — especially Dunn.

"Everyone was walking on air," said current Principal Julie Lee, whose retirement this year opens the door for Dunn to lead the school he graduated from in 2006.

Much has changed since then. The old building was thoroughly renovated a year later, while students' needs have evolved and COVID-19 has altered education, perhaps permanently.

But while Dunn is young, he brings an impressive resume and the maturity to match.

"The biggest challenge is to reset the culture," said Dunn, referring to looking ahead to a time when the school day isn't defined by the pandemic. "I definitely think about the kids who didn't have that social connection, and obviously some learning hasn't been able to occur."

Dunn said he doesn't look at the circumstances as a learning loss.

"We need to meet kids where they are at right now," he said.

In some ways, Dunn was born for this job. His father, Mike Dunn, was principal at Shadle in the 1990s before moving on to lead Mt. Spokane High School and now the Northeast Washington Educational Service District.

Chris Dunn's mother, Teresa, is a teacher in Nine Mile Falls.

"My parents, they got me excited about education," said Dunn, who earned a bachelor's in education at Washington State in 2011 and a master's in educational leadership from WSU in 2017.

In between, Dunn taught math for two years in the Riverside School District, then four more at Rogers High School. He also found the time to coach track, basketball and football at Rogers; prior to that he was head basketball coach at Cheney High School from 2013-15.

Lee said she saw his potential and gave him room to grow as an assistant principal from 2017-20.

"He has been very methodical in building all aspects of his administrative skills," said Lee, who helped the process by given Dunn experience on the student services side as well as curriculum.

She ticked off Dunn's wide range of experiences: overseeing state assessments and advanced placement tests, building the master bell schedule, staff evaluation and hiring.

"His resume is outstanding," Lee said.

Dunn is back at Rogers this year as an assistant principal under Lori Wyborney.

"We always wanted him back," said Wyborney, who will be moving to the Spokane Public Schools downtown office next year as an administrator.

"He's super-innovative, very kid-oriented and he's also a networker," Wyborney said. "That speaks to his communications skills because the staff really likes him."

That's also the case at Shadle, where teachers had a strong voice in the hiring process.

"The staff selected me just as they selected Chris Dunn," Lee said. "It's important that they have a voice in who their leadership is, but everyone was walking on air when they found out he would be the next principal."

During the hiring process, Superintendent Adam Swinyard said he and the committee were impressed with Dunn's "laser focus, his strong family education and that he takes the tradition at Shadle Park very seriously."

Lee also expects Dunn to "hit the ground running" this fall.

But now that he's about to come full circle, Dunn said he couldn't resist reminiscing about the old gym where he played basketball, "the spirit cons and all the things that make up this great school."

Dunn said he recognizes the challenges, which include the uncertainties of the post-pandemic era, whenever that begins. A pending change in school boundaries also will affect the culture at Shadle Park.

"But honestly, I want Shadle Park to be a place where every student feels connected to an adult, to be part of that larger community," Dunn said.