Next year will be Dan Besett’s last as Wilson High School’s principal. Talk about leaving at the top of your game.
The Association of Washington School Principals just honored Besett with the 2017 State High School Principal of the Year award. The Tacoma School Board followed with its own recognition.
Besett, who’s been at Wilson’s helm since 2005, said the accolades caught him unaware. He was paying too much attention to state testing and spring sports.
We say his energy and commitment to education should go viral. Maybe after he retires, he can work on mobilizing recruits. While state lawmakers go around the hamster wheel in legislative overtime, trying to agree on a plan to fix historically underfunded schools, a statewide teacher shortage rages on.
That’s where educators like Besett come in. If the state wants to attract bright, young college students as well as adults looking for new careers, restoring the profession’s status is step one. Any opportunity to spotlight Besett and other rock star educators should be seized.
A state survey last fall showed that 23 percent of school human resource directors said they’re in crisis when it comes to filling teacher positions; another 74 percent said they’re “struggling but getting by.” In spite of a recruitment campaign launched last year, good teachers are an endangered species.
Besett won’t entice would-be teachers with fame and wealth, but he does speak of treasure. “There is nothing better than helping a student who has hardships and challenges in life make it across the finish line at the Dome.”
Of course, Besett has made sure his students have a vision for themselves beyond the Tacoma Dome cap-and-gown ceremony. In 2016, 97 percent of Wilson’s graduating seniors had verifiable acceptance documentation for a program after high school.
With a graduation rate of nearly 94 percent, Wilson was top among Tacoma’s five comprehensive high schools. The critical work done there should be replicated, especially when 20 percent of Washington students are not graduating on time or at all.
Besett is smart to factor Wilson’s students into his formula for success. “They take pride in our facility. They know the importance of a diploma.” As Franz Kafka once wrote, “God gives us nuts, but he does not crack them.” The same holds true for education. Getting students to do the hard work is an educator’s great commission.
The leader whom students and staff call The Ram Man will leave his school better than he found it. Wilson has won a state school of distinction award an unprecedented six years in a row. Besett is also the glue that held things together during a decade-long $60 million remodeling project.
Wilson has new locker rooms, a remodeled pool and gym, new music building and academic wing. It has room for TV production, commercial-grade culinary arts program and autism classrooms. And because Dale Chihuly was part of the first graduating class at Wilson (Class of 1959), the school has a fully-equipped glass-blowing shop.
It’s fitting that Besett is Wilson’s unofficial photographer. He’s known for bringing his camera to school events and catching students in the act of doing something well; sometimes, he even captures the extraordinary.
With the lives he’s touched after four decades in education, his pictures must number in the thousands.