Imagine the high school of the future.
In the mind of Chris Reykdal (’94 Soc. Stu., Ed.), most juniors and seniors wouldn’t even be on campus for half of the day. They’d be in community colleges, labs, job sites, and technical training courses. After “rounding out core instruction” in ninth and tenth grades, students could meet learning standards for math, science, English, and social studies with a variety of different experiences.
Looking ahead 10 years, Washington’s superintendent of public instruction would like students to use their 2,000 hours of learning in the last two years of high school to “explore what they’re interested in.” He’d like all high schoolers to have a “high school and beyond plan” dovetailed with the current job market.
Lines between high schools and technical and community colleges should be blurred, he says, so younger students could earn more cross credits and get into programs now reserved for those older than 18. Students should also be able to earn high-school credit for work experience and apprenticeships, he says.
“In the 1990s, we opened up transitioning between high school and community college with academic routes, such as Running Start,” says Reykdal, in his second term as superintendent. He’s served since January 2017 and has helped lay the foundation for his high school of the future by overhauling graduation requirements to rely less on standardized tests and more on multiple pathways to demonstrate readiness.
Reykdal didn’t wait until high school to find his own pathway. By seventh grade, he knew he wanted a career in public education. He credits his elementary school teachers for this desire to teach and lead. “There was so much sense of self and value I got from their teaching,” says Reykdal, the youngest of eight siblings and first to go directly from high school to college.
“I had outstanding educators through my entire WSU journey,” he says. “Dr. LeRoy Ashby was perhaps the most knowledgeable instructor I ever had in history, and he delivered it in multiple modalities— auditory, visual, and hands-on. He was gentle but funny, knowledgeable but approachable. He was definitely part of my inspiration for my teaching style later on. Chris Sodorff in the education department taught us how powerful our impact could be as classroom teachers. And Dr. Marina Tolmacheva, my professor for Islamic history, taught compassion, but also called me out once during one of her lectures for talking too much to my future wife, Kim.”
He completed his student teaching at his alma mater, Snohomish High School, then taught history in Longview, while his wife, Kim Reykdal (’94, Soc. Stu., History, Ed.), taught in Battle Ground. Then they both earned master’s degrees at the University of North Carolina—his in public administration, hers in counseling.
Returning to Washington, Reykdal worked as a fiscal analyst for the Washington State Senate, then became operating budget director and deputy director for administration for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. Starting in 2010, he served three terms as a Democratic state representative. In line with his passion for student success, he helped pass a bill to provide financial assistance to low-income students who are taking college-level credits while in high school.
Besides giving students multiple pathways to graduation, Reykdal is passionate about universal access to early education for 3- to 4-year-olds and kindergarten readiness for 4-and-a-half-year-olds. He’s encouraged by recent expansion of Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. In elementary schools, he’d love to expand dual-language learning so students spend all day learning subjects in two languages.
For middle school, he envisions longer learning blocks and a trimester system that would allow students to have more choices to explore different subjects. In all grades, he advocates for more stable funding for students with disabilities.
Outside of the office and classroom, the Reykdals are avid hikers, especially in the Central Cascades, Alpine Wilderness, and Capitol Forest. They also hit trails at Mount St. Helens and Hurricane Ridge last summer. “It is a de-stressor to be in nature, away from a lot of people, and within terrain that is always changing,” Reykdal says, adding, “I really don’t like treadmills.”
They’re often joined by son, Carter, 17, and daughter, Kennedy, 15. “We don’t prescribe a path for them, only that they focus on three things: work with a purpose (making a larger contribution), investing in meaningful and healthy relationships (connection), and belief in a higher power (humility).”