I caught up with Phil Willenbrock this week, who is now working in the Highline School District as the vice principal at Ace Academy in Sea-Tac. Willenbrock served as Peninsula High School’s athletic director for three years.
When did you make the decision to take the job at Ace Academy?
One of the attractions at Peninsula was the opportunity to work with (former principal) Tim Winter. With Tim and the administrative team, I was able to complete my administrative internship, a state requirement for those individuals who aspire to be a school administrator. When I completed that, the next step I chose to tackle was to begin to look at some administrative positions. It’s a diverse, high-needs district. It’s an area that’s full of challenges. This district was specifically attractive. I interviewed at the end of June and was offered the position. (My family) loves living in Gig Harbor, we’ve been there since 2002. This unique second half of my career has been an interesting and exciting journey. It’s another opportunity to challenge myself, challenge my limits and take the step to the next level.
How did you arrive at your decision?
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As with any major life decision you go through, you evaluate what’s important to you. It’s always been important to me to be a good husband, a good father and be efficient and effective at what I do. We were able to stay in the Gig Harbor community. My youngest is at Gig Harbor High so we didn’t want to uproot her. The decision took full effect when I had the offer. It was in a district I was familiar with at a school I felt was kind of uniquely aligned to some of my goals — being able to identify with high-need populations and have a heart of empathy for kids that are maybe underrepresented. It’s full of immigrant families, diversity and kids full of a need for adults who want to invest in their lives. I felt it was the right fit. I was a little apprehensive to leave athletics since it’s been such an important part of my life for the last 26 years. But it’s a challenge in its own right.
You’ve been on the job for a few weeks now, what’s it been like so far?
The challenges that you see in the summertime are similar to what most districts face. You have limited resources, limited facilities and you try to make decisions. Everything we’ve done this summer here has been focused on setting up students for success. I’ve met with people with (the) YMCA, gone through trainings myself with regards to instructional leadership training in preparation for the school year. In coaching, I would equate it to three weeks of preseason meetings before practice starts. You’re doing what you can to be organized for students.
What are you most proud of about your time at Peninsula?
I’m most proud of the fact that some of the things I was charged to do from Tim Winter. The No. 1 thing was to increase awareness of sportsmanship and citizenship within the athletic program. I think that occurred. The first year I was at Peninsula, we still had more than WIAA recommended number of ejections. Those have decreased significantly. I’m proud of the coaches and student athletes, understanding sports in our community has a much larger impact than just Peninsula High School. Youth coaches come to our games, future Tides and Seahawks come to our games. I believe what they see provides a snapshot of the quality of our district. If they’re acting in a way that doesn’t promote sportsmanship, I think that’s a negative reflection on our town and on our high school. I think some gains were made.
The other issue I feel really good about is to integrate the athletic booster efforts into one general umbrella. Instead of individually operating booster clubs, we were able to work with parents and coaches to capture all of that under one general volunteer umbrella, the Volunteer Parent Organization, that is very involved. We streamlined the process and have added a layer of protection for coaches, so coaches can coach and not worry about handling funds. That was a major challenge presented to us as a staff and administration — to clean up the booster situation.
Much of what was accomplished, I attribute to the staff. As a district, (Gig Harbor High athletic director Bob Werner) and I streamlined the registration process, eliminated paper waste. Athletic registration now takes place online. It eliminated the parents’ requirement to turn in 14 pages of paperwork.
The last thing — I think we’ve added security to the Fish Bowl. I feel better about how we host large stadium events, with pedestrian barriers, local police and local sheriffs and local cadets as well, and just creating safer events in our facilities, which hopefully will be sustained.
What will you miss the most about the job, the school and the community?
I don’t know if it’s a matter of missing. I take a broad brush to education and influence. The thing I’ll miss is some of the relationships I developed at Peninsula. I don’t feel like I’m necessarily leaving anything. I think one of the things I’ll miss is the excitement and to watch the continued growth of the athletic programs. That’s the thing, you were able to have a part in that but can’t see that to its full completion. I’ll miss working with quality coaches who truly have the concern of students at Peninsula. So many of those coaches taught me things.
Any chance we’ll see you around, maybe at Fish Bowl?
Oh, you definitely will. I’m pretty active in the community with different things. You’ll see me at different events. I’ll definitely be around to check out some Peninsula basketball in the winter.