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Pack rides the wave to Orchard Heights

Nancy Pack says there’s no excuse for a student not achieving his or her highest potential. - Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo
Nancy Pack says there’s no excuse for a student not achieving his or her highest potential.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo

On a gusty afternoon years ago, Orchard Heights Elementary School principal Nancy Pack ventured into the Columbia River to windsurf.

The weather progressively became worse and when she tried to get up on the board more than a quarter-mile from the shore, Pack wasn’t able to get her feet planted quickly enough into the harness.

The gust of wind grabbed her “like a rag doll” and slammed her onto the sail, breaking her right ankle.

“I figured I had two choices: drown or get back in,” Pack said. “It’s kind of become a metaphor for my life.”

She acknowledged that it hurt to sail back to shore with the injury, but there wasn’t a good alternative. Pack said the experience applies to working with children.

“We have to push them — and sometimes it hurts — but they’re better for it and learn something about themselves,” she said.

Pack was hired last month to replace Mike Hickam, who accepted a teaching position at Sunnyslope Elementary. She spent the last four years as principal at Franklin Elementary in Port Angeles.

Her husband, Abbie, is the assistant director of special education in the South Kitsap School District, but that’s not the only reason she decided to take the position. Jerry Willson, who was a former administrator in the district, was a mentor to Pack in the North Kitsap School District. He advised her to take a position in the district several years ago if she had the opportunity.

“I always had that in the back of my mind,” she said.

Pack comes to a school that hasn’t met the No Child Left Behind Act’s adequate yearly progress for special-education students. Before becoming Franklin’s principal, Pack spent 28 years as a teacher, primarily in special education.

She said the school has already made progress on closing its achievement gaps. Pack also is impressed with what she calls a strong family-community partnership.

“I plan to utilize that,” she said. “I really want to help parents help their kids so we can close those gaps.”

Pack earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in speech and hearing pathology at Chico State University. She earned her principal credentials at Western Washington University.

But the impetus behind her teaching career began long before that. Growing up in Paradise, Calif., Pack and her brothers were able to pick a chicken to raise on Easter.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, and I always had kind of a passion for the underdog,” Pack said. “My brothers would pick out the strongest, biggest, most healthy chicken. I would pick out the weakling chicken who couldn’t hold its head up and was missing feathers.”

The results generally weren’t successful, but that didn’t deter her. She later worked with the University of Washington to create an autism outreach program with research data and also worked for the state as a consultant in the field.

“I’ve had better success in education,” said Pack, adding that two of her three adult daughters are pursuing careers in the field. “But I think I’ve always had a heart for making sure everyone was included. No matter what their obstacles are, they can be removed.”

And once that happens, Pack’s goals for Orchard Heights are simple.

“I want every student succeeding to their highest potential,” she said. “There are no excuses for that not happening.”

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