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SCHOOLS | Retiring principal looking for next adventure

Bob Leslie receives an award during last week’s recognition for retiring South Kitsap School District employees. - Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo
Bob Leslie receives an award during last week’s recognition for retiring South Kitsap School District employees.
— image credit: Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo

There are some that relish comfort in consistency.

Outgoing Sunnyslope Elementary School principal Bob Leslie is not among them.

The diversity of Leslie’s career perhaps best is exhibited by the photos he will be busy packing up once South Kitsap School District’s school year ends today. Those mementos range from his coaching career to two years teaching in Egypt.

And he does not expect retirement to be any less active than his career in education, which began in 1973 as a teacher and coach at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. Leslie and his wife, Jeani, who also was an educator in the South Kitsap School District, plan to purchase a recreational vehicle and travel the country.

“We’ve got two grandsons over in Pennsylvania, so we want to be able to see them,” he said. “We love to travel.”

Leslie, 63, might find traveling through the geographic diversity of the Rocky Mountains to the golden wheat fields of the Great Plains similar to his educational career. Unlike most in his profession, Leslie spent time teaching at elementary, middle and high schools. In addition, he also has worked at private and public schools.

That stemmed from opportunity. Leslie had an offer to teach in the Kelso School District, but his wife did her student-teaching in the Tacoma School District and both felt her best opportunity to earn a job was there. That led Leslie to begin his career at nearby Bellarmine Prep.

He then moved into public education in 1979 when he accepted a position at newly opened Gig Harbor High School. Leslie served as the school’s first football coach, where he compiled a 28-27 record before stepping down after the 1984 season.

Building a program seemed like a natural continuation for Leslie. After all, he signed to play for Washington State coach Jim Sweeney after graduating from Lewis & Clark in Spokane. He lettered as a linebacker for the Cougars from 1969-71, but never won more than four games as WSU did not having a winning record under Sweeney until 1972. But Leslie left with some positive memories. Teammate Don Sweet made a 27-yard field goal as time expired to lead the Cougars to a 24-23 win at defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford in 1971, and Leslie intercepted future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts in a win against Oregon that season.

“My claim to fame,” said Leslie, laughing. “We didn’t win very many games, but that was a highlight. I loved my time at WSU.”

Leslie also enjoyed coaching, but he noticed a change toward the end of his tenure at Gig Harbor. While Leslie planned to transition into school counseling, which was the focus of his master’s degree at Central Washington, he was dissatisfied with the growing number of students who only were able to play one sport in high school.

“I liked my kids participating in other sports,” he said. “Now it’s just crazy. Weight training. Summer camps. Now they’ve got spring football at the high school. Kids that want to do multiple sports — it’s so hard on their bodies.”

Leaving the coaching ranks was not Leslie’s last transition. He and his wife long had discussed the possibility of teaching abroad and with their daughter and son approaching high school in the late 1980s, they realized they had to move quickly. They wrote numerous letters and attended a conference in Northern Iowa in hopes to finding a position. Both eventually found middle-school teaching jobs at Egypt’s Cairo American College, which educates students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“There are more than 70,000 Americans in that country and they want their kids to have an American school experience,” Leslie said of the tuition-based school. “It was like a private-school setting for the kids.”

Leslie arrived in the country when the Gulf War, which started Aug. 2, 1990, began. But Leslie said he and his family felt safe as security increased around the school. He said the war, which resulted in decreased tourism, also provided other benefits.

“We went to the Valley of the Kings and there were no lines,” Leslie said. “It was kind of a good thing for us.”

He might have stayed longer, but promised his daughter that the family would return to the United States in time for her to graduate from high school if that was her desire. She requested that and Leslie became a counselor at Discovery Elementary School in the Peninsula School District in 1992.

“That’s when I fell in love with the elementary level,” he said.

Since then, Leslie has spent only one school year (2000-01) away from an elementary school. After earning his administrative credential from Central Washington, he served as an assistant principal at Peninsula High School. In July 2001, he was hired as principal at Sunnyslope. His wife did not immediately follow him from the Peninsula to SKSD, but the move was significant for her. Even though she was raised in Eastern Washington, she is part of the Jarstad family that was influential in the early days of Bremerton and Gorst. That includes Otto Jarstad Park, which runs alongside Gorst Creek.

“That was a neat connection for us to come back and be here at Sunnyslope,” Leslie said.

One of the school’s most significant accomplishments during his tenure came in December when Sunnyslope was one of five SKSD schools designated as the Center for Educational Effectiveness 2012 Schools of Distinction, which recognizes improvement in reading and mathematics during a five-year period. Along with Sunnyslope, Burley Glenwood, East Port Orchard, Orchard Heights and Sidney Glen elementary schools were among the 97 schools that earned the award in the state. Awards are given to the top 5 percent of elementary, middle and high schools based on results from the Measurements of Student Progress (third through eighth grade), the High School Proficiency Exam in reading and the End of Course Exam in mathematics (10th grade).

“That’s something we’re very proud of,” said Leslie, who will be succeeded by Orchard Heights Elementary School assistant principal Lisa Fundanet. “It’s a tribute to the people I work with.”

And, as Leslie travels in search of his next adventure, those will be the people he misses most.

“I think it will be about the relationships with the kids, staff and family,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to leave this place. There are lots of good memories.”

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