Miller educator named principal of the year

Miller Junior High School Principal Mark Decker has a couple versions of “Happy Birthday” that he busts out for students when the occasion calls.

“I have a rap, a country and an opera one,” said Decker, who was recently recognized by the Washington Association of School Administrators as the year’s Region 113 Outstanding Principal.

“I knew since I was a junior in high school I wanted to be a teacher,” said Decker. He loves catering to the unruly seventh and eighth graders he has led for the past two years and they equally adore him, voluntarily claiming that he is “amazing!” and “the best!”

“There’s never a dull moment,” said Decker, who said he enjoys being able to play the “good cop” due to the help of his assistant principal. “My wife says I haven’t stopped being thirteen yet, so that probably helps.”

In a historic move, Decker presided over the school’s program that makes an iPad available to each student. They pick them up each morning and leave them at the school each afternoon. They were the first junior high in the state to do so, according to Decker.

He said he purposefully came to the district to work under the leadership of district Superintendent Tom Opstad because of his visions for extended technology use.

“I knew he was going to push for it. I knew he had a forward, proactive approach to technology,” said Decker, who previously was a principal in Port Townsend for seven years, where Opstad was superintendent. Decker was also an assistant principal and athletic director in Montana prior to that. In addition to believing in the direction of the technology trend, Decker said he “had to look at some kind of solution” for placating device-loving incoming students who had come from fifth and sixth grades where they had been using their own personal school-owned iPod.

Decker said 97 percent of the school’s 32 teachers said they made the “right decision” in a June survey, only 3 percent were “wavering” and not a single one thought they had gone in the wrong direction. Since their change, more than 90 schools in the state of Washington have made the switch to “one-to-one” tablet programs for students.

“We started out as a big fish in a small pond, and now we’re sort of a small fish in a big pond,” he said.

Decker comes from a family of educators. His own mother and his father-in-law both retired as superintendents. It was his grandmother who persuaded him to return to his passion after a period in which he worked as a fiber optics professional.

“She said, ‘You were really good working with kids, you should go back to that’,” he recalled, adding he then realized she was right, returned to the profession and never looked back. He said he is most concerned with making sure his students are happy, comfortable and successful.

“It’s tough being in junior high, you know?” he said. “I just hope they see that people are there to help, that there are people there for them.”