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Kateri Brow

This article originally appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on October 30, 2009

By Barbara de Michele

In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change.

If you patronize the Issaquah Public Library, you may have noticed a set of three ravens — one on a bench facing Front Street, one “flying” into the library over the entrance, and the third near the children’s section, clasping a set of keys in its talons.

Looking closer, you may have even noticed that the library’s three ravens memorialize Kateri Brow.

Who was this remarkable woman, what role did she play in Issaquah history, and why the three ravens?

Kateri Brow (pronounced Bro) served as superintendent of the Issaquah School District from January, 1987 until her death in 1992.

A little like our current President Obama, Brow faced significant challenges when she took the helm of our local district.

Financially devastated, the district was in severe financial straits.

Unprecedented community growth was pushing the district to hire teachers and build schools for 500 to 1,000 new students per year.

And, in the mid-80’s, the state of Washington embarked on a school reform effort that was turning traditional curriculum topsy-turvy.

Given these circumstances, the school board turned to a most unusual choice to lead the district.

Kateri Brow was a short (about 5’ tall), squat, round-chested woman with a booming voice and a booming laugh.

Born and raised in Neah Bay, Brow was proud of her Native American heritage. She wore her hair long and straight, reminiscent of the hippie era in which she came of age, and she favored flowing shirts over slacks.

In some respects she was a hippie, with her love of acoustic guitar, photography and her forested home on Beaver Lake.

But the Issaquah educators and parents who revered Brow also knew of her shrewd intellect and wry sense of humor, her ability to lead people through difficult decisions, and her integrity.

A Seattle University graduate, Brow arrived in Issaquah in 1971 as a Maple Hills Elementary special education teacher.

Once, in an address before the Issaquah Women Professionals organization, Brow explained her decision to build a career within a single district.

As a student, Brow had carefully researched Washington school districts, looking for the right combination of a progressive community, creative educators, opportunities for professional growth, and a good place to live. Issaquah fit the bill, and she applied for a job which she readily received.

Issaquah would become the place where she would stake her life and career.

Brow made rapid progress from classroom teacher to Special Education Manager in 1973, to Director of Program Planning in 1977, to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in 1983.

During these years of professional growth, the Issaquah community increasingly embraced Brow as “one of our own.” Brow’s reputation and stature grew along with the status of her titles.

In late 1986, the Issaquah community received shocking news: the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office was threatening to take over district operations because of a significant budget deficit.

At a packed meeting held at the Issaquah Valley Elementary School gymnasium on January 5, 1987 the board named Brow as Interim Superintendent, replacing James Swick.

Public confidence in the district hit an all-time low. Voters expressed skepticism over the district’s ability to handle levy and bond funds. Parents removed students and transferred them to other districts and private schools. Fifty-three classified workers and nearly 30 certificated teachers and administrators lost their jobs.

Brow moved quickly to restore confidence, visiting schools, classrooms, PTA and Chamber of Commerce meetings.

At one point she climbed aboard school buses and rode with students and drivers, asking for their input into solving Issaquah’s financial woes.

In a “stump speech” that became rather famous within the district, Brow went from school faculty to school faculty, extolling the virtues of saving every penny of taxpayer’s money.

“Pull the drawers out of your desks and see how many paperclips you can find,” she would tell the assembled teachers.

Her already-established credentials as a master teacher and administrator helped. A strong sense of teamwork began to pervade the district.

Internally, Brow re-structured the district’s finance office. Within a few short months, the board enacted budget controls and oversight measures still in place today. Subsequently, the district’s bond rating was renewed at the highest possible level.

Finally, Brow directed district curriculum leaders to establish a cyclical review system, ensuring that every area of student learning was subject to continuous quality improvement.

In the spring of 1987, the first test of Brow’s leadership loomed large: a levy and bond election. Significantly, voters approved the levy and bond, an amazing accomplishment for the neophyte superintendent.

On May 1, 1987 the board named Brow permanent superintendent, her title until her death from cancer in Nov., 1992.

In her short tenure, Brow received numerous awards and honors, as did the Issaquah School District. Most memorably, in 1988 she was named Washington State Superintendent of the Year.

Across every curriculum area, student test scores rose until Issaquah was at or near the top of all districts in the state.

Students were also recognized for excellence in sports, in the arts and drama. Issaquah became known as an innovator in technology, well ahead of other districts.

Encouraged by Brow, parents established the Issaquah Schools Foundation, an organization that has since raised millions for Issaquah schools and students.

Beyond Issaquah, Brow played a significant role in the development of standards that later shaped Washington State’s school reform movement.

Which brings us back to the Issaquah library’s three ravens, particularly the raven with the keys in its talons.

Brow told the story of how one of her own Neah Bay teachers had shown her a set of keys.

“Learning is like this set of keys,” the teacher said. “Every time you learn something new, you find a way to open another door.”

In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change, sometimes whimsical but often profound.

Brow was such a change-maker, opening doors for herself and others throughout her life.

Top 10 Records in the Digital Collections from 2013

 

At the end of every year we’re able to see what the top records from our Digital Collections are – meaning which photo, document, letter, etc. was accessed by the most people. It always fascinates me to see what records make this list and it is never what I expect. The following are the top 10 records accessed during the year 2013.

10. Mary Pedegana, Mattie Tibbetts, and Ferol Tibbetts in Swimwear, 1910s

 Mary, Mattie, and Ferol (and an unknown young boy) are wearing swimwear of the day. A railroad trestle is able to seen from the background, but it’s unknown where the photo was taken. This photo is from one of Ferol Tibbetts’ photo albums. Clicking “Tibbetts Family” from the list of tags on the left will take you to more blog entries about the Tibbetts’ family. Full Record

9. Friend of Josephine Cornick, 1915

An unknown woman stands in a field with overalls, straw hat, and a shovel. From the Josephine Cornick Ross Collection we featured a bit in our blog this year. Full Record

8. Ray Robertson, Town Marshal, 1949

Ray Robertson was Town Marshal in 1949. In this picture he’s with his two oldest sons and perhaps Issaquah’s first squad car, which he was instrumental in purchasing. Read more about Ray Robertson on our websiteFull Record

7. Lew on Lewbea and Bojo on Rusty, 1964

Bojo the horse-riding dog. There isn’t much more to be said. Full Record

6. ”Finding the Site of the Attack on Chinese Laborers in Squak Valley”

A document prepared by Tim Greyhavens where he worked to find the exact location of where the 1885 attack on Chinese laborers occurred. The document, available in our Digital Collections, contains photos, transcripts, and is a fascinating read. Full Record

5. Halmar Foldvik Mine Training Certificate, 1924

A new addition to our collections in 2013 – this is a “Certificate of Mine Rescue and First-Aid Training” for Halmar Foldvik. A fascinating piece and great addition to our collection of mine information. Full Record

4. Letter from Fran Pope to Rita Perstac, Jan. 5, 1989 – Greater Issaquah Coalition

 This is one of those records that surprises me. Our Greater Issaquah Coalition collection is important, but I’m always surprised when it’s letters that get a lot of traffic and not photos. This letter and accompanying report outlines the importance of preserving Pickering Barn and ideas for connecting it, Gilman Village, and the Depot via train tracks. Full Record

3. Minnie Wilson Schomber Letter, August 31, 1916

Another surprise in the top 10. Having been the one to scan, read, and catalog the entirety of Minnie Wilson Schomber’s letter collection (including hers and her husband’s), I always groan a little when one pops up. Her sappy, sweet letters are always good for a laugh – especially when she writes “I would give anything if I had you and the big leather chair here tonight. I suppose you could guess what I would do.”  Full Record

2. Friend of Josephine Cornick Modeling her Gym Bloomers, ca 1918

Another picture of a friend of Josephine Cornick – this time in her gym bloomers, standing in front of what appears to be Issaquah High School. Two gals behind her appear to be wearing the same outfit. At least they’re pants and not skirts! Full Record

1. Opening of Vasa Hall in Upper Preston, ca 1950

We had a lot of requests for Preston photos this year and did a lot of work in making sure our Preston records were uploaded to our Digital Collections. This must have been the most popular of the bunch! A group photo of the “Order of Vasa” at the opening of the new Vasa Hall in Upper Preston. Unfortunately, no one in the photo is identified – send us any information you may have! Full Record
In-depth cataloging of letters, journals and other documents was made possible by a grant from 4Culture. Yet another grant from 4Culture, along with generous support from individual donors, makes it possible for us to scan these items and share them through our Digitial Archives.

From the Digital Collections: Back to School!

With the end of August and summer comes back to school season. Here are some class pictures of Issaquah’s schools from the past 130 years.
Tibbetts’ School ca 1883
Full Record
Squak School ca 1890
Full Record
Issaquah’s First School Building ca 1898
Full Record
Issaquah Grade School ca 1923
Full Record
Issaquah 6th Grade Class ca 1934
Full Record
IHS Junior Class ca 1948
Full Record
Clark Elementary School ca 1966
Full Record

Today In History: December 10, 1909

The December 10, 1909 Issaquah Independent reported that the school board had placed a drinking fountain on the school grounds for the benefit of the pupils. Progress!