Catherine Hunt’s goal each day is to greet all 173 students by their first name upon their arrival at school. If she happens to miss someone, it’s okay. She’ll see them soon enough.
“I visit each classroom first thing in the morning,” Hunt said, “and frequently throughout the day.”
Hunt loves being the K-12 Principal of the Northport School District because of the variety of engaged learning opportunities she sees as she makes her way to each of the elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. The campus is composed of two separated buildings, and Hunt has to walk outside—no matter the often-frigid weather in the winter—to be a regular presence for all of her students.
“It probably averages about once an hour all day where I at least pop my head in,” Hunt said. “I want the kids to know that I’m there supporting them.”
Northport, which is located seven miles below the Canada border in a remote area of northeastern Washington, has a population of about 300 people.
Catherine Hunt is thrilled to officially be included in that group.
“I was an outsider coming in here three years ago,” said Hunt, who is originally from Alabama and has resided in 11 places in her life. “But this is definitely home now for my husband and I. We’re in the middle of nowhere and we love it. It’s beautiful, it’s quiet, it’s homey. We really like the peace and tranquility here.”
Any stress that Hunt may experience during the day as a K-12 Principal is quickly washed away when she sits on her back porch each evening and looks out on the mighty Columbia River flowing amid tree-lined mountains.
“That’s my decompression,” Hunt said. “I won’t have to say a word. Just watch it flow.”
“Today is a good day for a good day.”
Each day, Catherine Hunt ends the school-wide morning announcements with her favorite phrase. The motto is also featured at the bottom of every email she sends, is displayed on a wall in the school, and is even stitched on a pillow in her office.
“It means that every day we start anew,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, it’s in the past. We’re going to move on and we’re going to work with what we’ve got. Every day is a good day for a good day.”
Northport Superintendent Don Baribault said the motto quickly connected with his staff and students, especially given the timing of Hunt’s hire. Hunt became K-12 Principal in March 2020, just as the unpredictable Covid-19 pandemic began to disrupt schools nationwide. But Hunt’s daily dose of optimism helped her community navigate distance learning and stay connected.
“She gave our school a breath of fresh air,” said Baribault, who believes Hunt is the first principal hired from outside the district in 30 years. “Everything felt fresh and new with her, including all of her sayings. She has such a lively and sunny personality.”
With five grown children (ages 23-33) and eight grandkids, Catherine Hunt is well-versed in keeping track of various schedules and adjusting to the unpredictability of a given day.
So, while her job title is officially K-12 Principal, she happily adds several other roles to her duties to best serve her students. That includes being willing to drive them to various doctor and dentist appointments—sometimes at a moment’s notice—throughout their remote community.
“It’s just kind of the way it is up here,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s for the kids, we do it. There’s always something going on that we can help with.”
Northport Superintendent Don Baribault said Hunt’s leadership and willingness to do “whatever it takes” has made everyone feel less isolated in their spread-out rural environment.
“She’s really leaned into, ‘It takes a village to raise a kid,’” Baribault said. “Kids might not always be happy with how things go during the day, but they know that there’s a bunch of people who care about them.”
In Catherine Hunt’s three years in Northport, she’s observed a common trait among people around town that she applies to her day-to-day work as a school leader.
“What I’ve learned from this community is that you can be you here,” Hunt said. “You don’t have to pretend to be anyone else or worry about status.”
“Today is a good day for a good day. It means that every day we start anew.”
Hunt, who said school was a struggle for her growing up, wants each student to feel comfortable enough to bring their true self to campus each day. Hunt and her staff make that possible by finding different ways to highlight students’ achievements and empathize with their struggles.
“Relationships are the key to it all,” Hunt said. “I’m real with them. I celebrate their wins. I cry with their missed opportunities. I support them. I have a passion for kids and for learning, and I want to help kids understand that they can learn at their own pace in their own time.
“I love my job. I can’t even say it’s a job. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to serve kids and get them excited about learning.”
Catherine Hunt is one of three recipients of the inaugural Gradient Learning School Leader of the Year Award. Learn more about the award and nominate a 2024 School Leader of the Year.