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Mountain’s new principal believes excellence lives at the school

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By Carol A. Clark

Gerry Washburn is well acquainted with Mountain Elementary School. He got his start there in the education field teaching a fourth and fifth grade combination in 1997.

Washburn went on to teach fifth grade and then sixth grade at Mountain for several years and was team teaching sixth grade with Mountain teacher Laura Patterson when the Cerro Grande Fire hit.

He and Patterson became heavily involved in the Volunteer Task Force and the Quemazon Nature Trail. They worked with hundreds of students to repair area hills and trails damaged by the fire.

Washburn began teaching third grade because he really wanted to team with Bernadette Ziomek, he said and see how she implemented the math curriculum at the time.

“My time in third grade really made me a better teacher,” Washburn said during an interview in his office Tuesday. “It taught me about pace and how to chunk information into smaller bits. When you work with a master teacher, and I’ve been blessed to work with several, it just makes you better and it certainly made me better.”

Washburn left Mountain for a time to serve as vice principal at Los Alamos Middle School where he also coached sports.

“It was very, very difficult to leave the middle school because I love those kids and the teachers and the staff,” he said. “I guess my roots were here so coming back was not so much a decision but a natural progression of events. I think you go were you can do the most good.”

Washburn officially became Mountain’s principal July 20, although he spent most of the summer there preparing for the new school year, which begins Aug. 17. He took over from Mike Katko, a popular principal who left amid a flurry of controversy when his contact wasn’t renewed.

“I’ve always believed that excellence lives at Mountain School and if I have any goals, it’s to continue to foster that excellence and to help a great school continue to be great and to improve where we need to improve,” Washburn said. “I’m very excited to be here and I sent a letter out to parents introducing myself  and included a survey for which we’ve received good response.”

Washburn explained to parents that his educational philosophy encompasses kindness, respect and joy.

“If we treat every student with kindness and respect and we create a school where students get joy from learning, then we can’t help but get a positive successful outcome,” he said. “All of our schools here are plum full of dedicated teachers and educators wanting to provide each and every child the best education possible. I am humbled to be principal of Mountain and I would like to be a role model for hope for children and adults and would like to know that every child has a caring adult in their lives and that we’re providing a safe place for learning. If we do those things, we really won’t leave any child behind/”  

Washburn has lived in Los Alamos for 26 years where he has also taught girls basketball at LAMS for a couple of years and Varsity girls basketball at the high school for some 13 years.

He was born in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. His parents were educators and as a child, Washburn and his family moved every three or four years, he said.

“I’m grateful to have found a profession that allows me to stay here and be a part of this community,” he said. “I’m happy to say my kids didn’t have to move around – all four were educated here.”

Washburn married his high school sweetheart, Audrey, 35 years ago. She has worked at Los Alamos Public Schools for 23 years and serves currently as the school’s transportation specialist.

Their children have graduated from Los Alamos High School with the exception of Grant, 14, who enters high school this year. Their other children include Kayti, 27, Rosemary, 25, and Allison, 23.

The Washburns also have five grandchildren ranging from seven months to 3 years old. Moses and Beau belong to Kayti, Calvin and Curtis belong to Allison and Mason belongs to Rosemary.

“They are full of energy and they are fun,” Washburn said.

The family also has two hound dogs, Trouble and Ed, and an old dog that belonged to his parents called Drasha that is retiring.

Washburn is an avid hiker who loves to spend time outdoors. He graduated from Floyd High School, earned bachelor and master degrees from Eastern New Mexico University and is beginning doctoral studies.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.