Longtime Bremerton principal has a lot left to give to kids

Kitsap Lake Principal Flint Walpole laughs with third graders during recess. Walpole is ending his 22-year career in the Bremerton School District after this school year. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Kitsap Lake Principal Flint Walpole laughs with third graders during recess. Walpole is ending his 22-year career in the Bremerton School District after this school year.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When Principal Flint Walpole walks onto the playground during recess at Kitsap Lake Elementary, he’s a magnet.

“I’ve been in school since I was six years old,” he joked. “I’ve never done anything else.”

Students are eager to perform flips on the bars for him and gather around him to get his attention. He takes some students aside to give them a pep talk or exchange a high-five.

He even gets fan mail from students, he said.

“Not often are you going to get a love letter from the people you work with,” Walpole said. “I get a lot of that. There’s just no better work.”

Walpole, 60, is a force that will be missed when he leaves the Bremerton School District at the end of the year. After 22 years of being principal at schools across the district — at the old Bremerton Middle School, Mountain View Middle School and West Hills Elementary before Kitsap Lake — he says he is “pulled to do something else.”

“I’m not sure what that is yet,” he said, adding that he is interested in teaching future teachers or getting a doctorate degree.

“I want to pause before I decide what I want to be when I grow up. I still have a lot left in me to give.”

The announcement of his departure surprised those involved in the school district for a long time.

“I was kind of taken aback,” said School Board President Dave Boynton, who has known Walpole for about 15 years. “I’m going to miss him. He was good to talk to.”

District spokeswoman Patty Glaser has known Walpole since he started in Bremerton. Walpole, who was Glaser’s wedding photographer five years ago, will leave behind a void, she said.

“There will definitely be a hole because of his personality,” Glaser said. “He’s very personable, he’s fun to be around.”

Walpole has been an educator since 1971, getting his start as an elementary teacher in Oregon and working his way up to being a middle school principal.

When Walpole arrived in Bremerton in 1988, the district was undergoing several changes. He took a job as principal of the old Bremerton Middle School while East and West High Schools were being combined into Bremerton High School. And just a few years later, the middle school split into Mountain View Middle School and Bremerton Junior High.

Walpole served as the “planning” principal for the new Mountain View Middle School, which he counts among his greatest accomplishments. He helped design the building, met with architects and guided the new school’s progress.

After being principal of Mountain View Middle School for about five years, Walpole missed having a closer relationship with kids, parents and teachers that he could get at a younger level. In 1997, he came to West Hills Elementary.

“Once I got there, I loved it,” Walpole said. “It was wonderful.”

Walpole arrived at West Hills wanting to lift the students’ reading scores. He worked with Boynton, who was an AmeriCorps director, to bring the volunteer program started at Mountain View to West Hills. At the same time, West Hills secured a Washington Reading Corps grant, awarded to high-poverty schools. The result of those two efforts was three-day-a-week individual tutoring sessions for more than half of West Hills’ students. The school’s reading scores increased and West Hills became one of the first Washington State Reading Schools of the Month.

“It was just a thing of beauty to watch it work,” Walpole said.

Boynton credits Walpole with the school’s improvement.

“He was a real asset to the school district,” he said. “I think he’s had a tremendous impact.”

Walpole moved on to Kitsap Lake last year, out of a need to try something different. Coming from the highest-poverty school in the district to one of the more affluent schools, the contrast between rich and poor could hardly be more stark. But Glaser said his success at both schools shows his versatility as an educator.

“He has done very well with both because he always has the child’s focus in mind,” Glaser said. “That really puts people at ease.”

As a 22-year veteran of the district, who now sees children of former students come through his school, Walpole has stood by his students and the people he works with through the changes over the years.

“He’s been there through the good parts of my life and the district’s life and he’s been there through the bad parts,” Glaser said. “I will miss that.”

Though he may be leaving the district, his work is not finished.

“I love being a principal,” Walpole said. “That’s my life’s work. I know I’ll get back to it someday at some point. I’m not done.”

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