New WMS principal up for the challenge

07/05/2018

Chris Eckert, who accepted an interim principal position at West Marin and Inverness Schools last week following a tumultuous spring for Shoreline Unified School District, says he is up for the challenge.

The 40-year-old Inverness resident obtained his administrative credential last December, the latest step in a teaching career that has flourished over the past decade in Point Reyes Station.

Mr. Eckert is a New York native who spent nearly a decade coaching sports and teaching P.E. in the East Bay. After he moved to West Marin in 2009, he got his “foot in the door” at local schools by volunteering with the West Marin Green Team. He helped start West Marin School’s teen center, serving as its executive director from 2011 until 2013, when he began working more hours at the school

He has taught sixth grade at West Marin for the past four years and, since 2012, physical education, coaching cross country and track in the district for grades three through eight.

Madeline Hope, who worked with Mr. Eckert back in the early days on the West Marin Green Team and later at the teen center, described him as a rising star.

“It became clear that he was being seen as the sort of male staff member who has leadership ability,” she said. “Young people were supportive of who he was, and he was quickly building the trust and respect of his colleagues. He has always been buoyed by the people in his work environment.”

Ms. Hope also explained the value of Mr. Eckert living in the community and understanding the “risk and protective factors” for young people and their families. Without living here, it’s difficult to know how to deal with the lack of access to resources in a community that is not the “traditional, incorporated community,” she said.

Mr. Eckert, she added, is resourceful and knows how to “build something out of nothing.”

“He’s really a team player, and that’s a good thing about him being in a leadership role: he can work with his colleagues in the community and build bridges with the different stakeholders,” she said. “I think that’s going to be refreshing for everyone.”

Two weeks ago, Mr. Eckert accepted an offer for a year-long position as interim principal, following a decision by the district to demote Matt Nagle, who served as principal for the past six years, to a K-2 teaching position at Bodega Bay School.

Originally Mr. Eckert accepted a co-principal post, but the other teacher, second-grade teacher Luis Burgos, dropped out after feeling immediate heat from the community over the board’s hasty reassignments. Concerns about both teachers’ lack of administrative experience were aired and red flags raised concerning Mr. Eckert’s imperfect attendance record. 

Mr. Eckert said he has been trying not to take the circumstances personally—and that he is always up for a challenge. “I knew right away that if I said yes to this, it was going to be tumultuous in the first few weeks or months,” he said. An avid mountain biker, he said he took to the trails to clear his head after the initial backlash over the board’s decision last week. 

“It’s a healing process,” he said. “Change is hard. It is—it’s difficult. I want to allow for that, allow for change to take place, and not rush the process. As a staff, moving forward, we have to be cohesive and persevere through this; that’s what we teach our students every day. I think the most important thing is to continue to prioritize rigorous academics and a good learning environment, and not let this affect our students.”

Superintendent Bob Raines said the school will re-evaluate the interim position in January. At that time, either Mr. Eckert will continue on or there will be a process of selecting a new principal from a pool of applicants.

For his part, Mr. Eckert believes that even if things are going well, it makes sense to make time for a public process, including opening the position to a host of candidates by posting it online and allowing a parent, staff and board-member hiring committee to make a recommendation, as per protocol.

Meanwhile, he’s excited for the upcoming school year. As far as any new vision, he said he hopes “to really value what has been working and not make too many big shifts—there have been enough of those already.”