Nate Salisbury, principal at North Tapps Middle School, takes the helm at Oak Harbor High School July 1. (Photo provided by Oak Harbor Public Schools)

Nate Salisbury, principal at North Tapps Middle School, takes the helm at Oak Harbor High School July 1. (Photo provided by Oak Harbor Public Schools)

New Oak Harbor High School principal from Lake Tapps

Oak Harbor High School’s new principal stumbled upon the job kind of how social media users find eerily relevant ads for things pop up just after talking about them.

Nate Salisbury was the principal at North Tapps Middle School when he started to consider returning to a high school setting, but the idea hadn’t fully formed into action yet when he got an email from Oak Harbor Public Schools.

“I didn’t find this job, this job found me,” Salisbury said.

School district officials last week announced his selection as the replacement for Dwight Lundstrom, who will be serving as assistant superintendent starting July 1.

The district sent out a recruitment email to nearly 1,500 principals and assistant principals across the state. Salisbury forwarded the posting to his wife Saben Salisbury, who’s an elementary school teacher. She started researching Oak Harbor, which until that point Nate Salisbury thought was only a freight company. He began looking into the district and things started to click.

“We kind of fell in love with the place,” he said.

Nate Salisbury is a self-described “small-town guy”and is drawn to districts with lower populations but high levels of community involvement.

In his 24 years in public education, Salisbury spent 16 at the high school level. He worked as athletic director and dean for Kalama High School in 2007 before being promoted to assistant principal there, where he stayed until 2011.

He believes strongly in the “it-takes-a-village” philosophy of raising and educating children, and he’s not convinced that’s as possible in bigger cities.

Oak Harbor High School will be his biggest school yet, but he said he shares many of the values held by its current administration and staff. The school’s adherence to CharacterStrong curriculum, which is training focused on character development and social-emotional learning, stood out to him. He’s been a strong proponent of both the character-focused style of teaching and on the CharacterStrong organization in particular. He said his standards remain high, but he believes academic success will follow a culture of kindness and respect. He said for a student to “be their best self” they need to feel comfortable, safe and have a sense of belonging.

“I think a culture of a building is one of the most important things,” he said, “and culture starts with the adults in the building.”

Superintendent Lance Gibbon said he and the selection committee were impressed with Salisbury’s experience, but it was his interactions with students, staff, parents and the administration that set him apart. The district received 15 applications and interviewed five candidates in its search.

“Nate really made a connection everywhere he went,” Gibbon said. “… Over and over, I just heard how impressed people were with him.”

Salisbury said relationships are a key component to success and not just between himself and the students. He hopes to foster respectful connections between all the adults in the building and the students. His goal is to remain “visible, supportive and encouraging.”

He knows he’ll need help from other staff and administrators to reach all 1,600 or so students, because he can’t possibly form a connection between each one of them.

“I want the kids to know who I am, and I want to know who they are,” he said.

Salisbury said because of the school’s current success, he feels comfortable taking a year to understand the high school and district before making any changes. His predecessor began the transition from a semester to trimester, and Salisbury will oversee the first year the new schedule goes into effect.

He said he’s “reluctant to establish a long-term vision” but after a year in the position, he’ll work with staff to create one.

His official start date isn’t until July 1, but he plans to visit Oak Harbor periodically until then. His commitment and interest in the area itself also caught the attention of the selection committee, Gibbon said. Because he wasn’t actively job searching, he didn’t apply anywhere else.

Students who met with Salisbury commented on his genuine love of the city and excitement for moving there, Gibbon said. During the process, Salisbury participated in several community forums. A committee comprising teachers, classified staff, administrators, students and parents also performed a round of interviews.

Ultimately, the decision fell upon Gibbon to choose among the last three candidates. This didn’t turn out to be a difficult one, he said, because of the “overwhelming” responses he received.

“The consensus was clear,” Gibbon said. “Nate was the guy.”

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