Harlan Gallinger has a quality you look for in an emergency physician: He cares about people in the community and how to serve their needs.
That attitude also extends to his latest endeavor as the newest member of the Peninsula School District Board of Directors.
On Nov. 30, Gallinger was appointed to the Position 4 seat, which was vacated by Jill Uddenberg in September. He was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the board to fill the position until next fall, when an election will be held for the seat that expires in 2015.
Gallinger was sworn in at the Dec. 6 school board meeting.
He traces his passion for public education to his time with Teach for America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach” for at least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States.
“The goal of Teach for America at the time was to recruit college graduates without education coursework or experience to high-need areas, particularly focusing on math and science,” said Gallinger, who graduated from Sumner High School in 1994 and went on to graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a double major in history and chemistry. “At the time, it was much smaller and less organized today, but I was given a crash-course in five weeks in Houston, Texas, and then spent the next two years in rural North Carolina, embedded with a small community, assigned to teach sixth-grade math and science in a very low-performing public middle school.
“At the time, we were essentially filling holes for positions that the district could not fill,” he said. “So, while I was initially told to prepare for high school chemistry, a couple weeks before classes started, I was asked to teach sixth-grade math and science.”
The experience turned out to have a profound effect on Gallinger, who labored both inside the classroom and out in an attempt to engage with students and their families. That meant going to baseball and basketball games, pageants and church events, to develop meaningful relationships beyond class.
In addition, he helped coach the soccer team and spoke up at school board meetings about a lack of resources, such as textbooks and functional science equipment.
Gallinger found himself writing grants for supplies and coordinating field trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City following massive fundraising efforts.
His students, who outscored their peers — and most of the seventh- and eighth-graders in the entire school — placed on the same level as high-performing schools throughout the state.
“Through this formative two-year experience, I learned just how important high-quality teachers are to student achievement — even more so in underserved areas,” Gallinger said. “It is very clear that education is about the only equalizing opportunity in this country, but unfortunately, many students in urban and rural areas do not have the same educational opportunities of their suburban counterparts.
“While I would have been happy to stay a public-school teacher, I felt I would be able to more strongly advocate for public education from outside the classroom.”
After his time with Teach for America, Gallinger worked seasonally for the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter, and that gave him time to prepare for and take the Medical College Admission Test and apply for medical school. He was admitted to the University of Washington School of Medicine and graduated in 2007.
Gallinger had residency training at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., and he and his family — wife, Lucy, and two daughters, Abigail, 4, and Lucy, 1 — recently moved to Gig Harbor from Milwaukee, Wis., where he had been participating in pediatric emergency medicine fellowship training at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
“I took a position with Tacoma Emergency Care Physicians, which is a group that exclusively staffs emergency departments within the Multicare Health System,” Gallinger said.
With his older daughter attending preschool at Gig Harbor Academy — she plans to attend kindergarten at Artondale Elementary School next year — Gallinger has more than a passing interest in making his mark on the district.
“I look forward to 16 years of first-hand experience with the Peninsula School District through the classroom and extracurricular activities of my children,” he said.
Gallinger plans to take some time to get input from district stakeholders.
“I want to spend the first several months listening to parents, teachers, building and district leaders, and community leaders, to gain a better understanding of the perceived needs of the district,” he said. “As part of that discussion, I want to talk about continuing to make sure our curriculum is rigorous for all learners, especially with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).”
A focus on STEM is important in today’s global economy, he said.
“I believe that graduating our students with stronger math and science backgrounds will prepare them to compete more successfully in our ever-increasing, technology-driven world,” Gallinger said.
To help them compete, Gallinger also plans to focus on facilities.
“Finally, I want to be part of the discussion within the community about how we can best meet the needs of our students with our current facilities, and explore our needs for expanded and/or additional facilities, to support continued growth within the district, given that most of our students are on campuses with portable classrooms because the schools are overcrowded,” he said. “Not only is this less than ideal for building a cohesive school community, I believe that portable classrooms provide additional challenges to improving the safety of our school campuses.”
Overall, Gallinger is pleased with the district and looks forward to it being a little less modest.
“I think that the district could do a much better job of communicating its successes in the classroom, with advances in curriculum, and thrifty financial management, with parents and the community,” he said.
Gallinger said he’s open to meet with parents or community members. His email address is email@example.com.Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.