Collin Buckley knows that if he was told when he was in high school that he’d one day become a high school principal, he would have simply laughed (along with anyone who knew him, he says). But Buckley turned to serving students shortly after his education, first as a teacher and coach and, more recently, as Nooksack Valley High School’s vice principal. He’s now ready for the next step: NVHS principal.
“It is very exciting,” he says. “This is an amazing time to make a change.”
Buckley, who came to the district in 2011 from Mount Baker as a Nooksack Valley Middle School language arts and social studies teacher while coaching cross country and track and field at NVHS, has spent the last five years as the high school’s vice principal. With Matt Galley moving from NVHS principal to district superintendent in July, Buckley moves into the top spot.
The in-school transition has given Buckley and Galley plenty of time to work together on the shift. “We have been thinking about it quite a bit and talk about it quite a bit,” Buckley says. “This is the longest transition ever and it creates a lot of continuity.” While Buckley has remained focused on his current role within the school, he’s also taken a deeper approach to other aspects, such as scheduling and staffing.
But every decision—and every new job—brings a focus on the students. “The reason I got into administration was to have a broader impact on students,” he says. “As the assistant principal you are very kid oriented and in contact with students more often than not. I really like that part of the job, but it is cool to put a different eye on instruction. To look at different subject areas, different instructional routines, to be able to watch and take that back and help teachers, there is a benefit for kids down the line.”
Galley says he had an eye on Buckley as the school’s next principal when he was hired from the middle school five years ago. “His personality and his relationships, we knew he had the intangibles you would want to see,” Galley says. “From the beginning, we tried to not pigeon hole each of us as one thing or the other, tried to share some roles and as this (transition) has gotten closer I have been talking openly and being more reflective of how I think about things and what I do and share why I do what I do. He can take what makes sense and fits with him and put that up against his own perspective and we will still be able to do that when the transition occurs.”
Galley says that having such a great mix of teacher leaders within the school has given both of them a great perspective and provides plenty of feedback to help them grow as school leaders. “I am really excited for him and for the school,” Galley says. “It is still going to be a ‘we,’ but a ‘we’ from a different office.”
For Buckley, the new challenge is leading an entire school, but he looks at it similar to when he was a head coach. Then, he would think about the layers of the work, how to empower coaches you work with to all meet the same goal. “At the end of the day, when a kid gets out of high school, we want them to have more than credits, we want them to have these experiences, we want them to be better people,” he says. “At the end of this, you should be a better person, not just a kid with a high school diploma.”
Coming into a new school year hopefully on the back side of the pandemic, Buckley says it has shown that not only are NVHS teachers incredibly creative, but they have been able to quickly learn—and speed up—best practices in such things as one-to-one technology. “We pushed ourselves to a point we didn’t think we would be,” he says, setting up Buckley’s excitement to lead a stellar group of teachers while putting students first.