September 2008 -

Gold Minds: Richard Knuth - Education Administration, UW Tacoma

As told to Jonathan Kiefer

Richard Knuth
Mary Levin photo

One of the factors demographers use to determine how many prison beds they'll need in 15 years is reading scores at the third-grade level. There's a high correlation between student achievement and people growing up and living in poverty or becoming criminals. So I try not to let the students lose sight of the fact that this is important work. As school principals, you're at the front lines of the wars on poverty and crime. When I was a young man, I guess I was pretty cynical and hardened and sarcastic, but I realized that the only thing I could really attach some meaning to was service. And I still believe that today. That's the only thing that makes sense to me in this world, that we need to serve others—and the most noble service I think is to young people. Now, don't think it's always entirely altruistic. It's what makes me happy, so in some ways you could even say that it's hedonistic. It's how I derive satisfaction. And I also teach my students that one can have plural motives, you know? It's OK to want to strive and succeed and become a leader and a superintendent, with a title on the door and a higher salary—those motives are all OK. As long as they're accompanied by another motive, which is related to serving the children and the parents and the staff and the teachers who work for you.