Woodmoor Elem. principal retires after lengthy career

Students hand off cards to retiring Woodmoor Elementary Principal Steve Wharton during a day in his honor June 17 at the Bothell school. He’s worked in local schools for 32 years.  - Joshua Adam Hicks / Reporter
Students hand off cards to retiring Woodmoor Elementary Principal Steve Wharton during a day in his honor June 17 at the Bothell school. He’s worked in local schools for 32 years.
— image credit: Joshua Adam Hicks / Reporter

It’s not like Steve Wharton to be caught off guard by major events at Woodmoor Elementary.

He is, after all, the principal.

So it comes as a surprise that the Woodmoor staff managed to secretly organize two school-wide functions that would honor his retirement.

The first was an all-school assembly in which students presented the principal with gifts, and the state delivered a proclamation declaring June 13 “Steve Wharton Day.”

The city of Bothell followed suit, designating the same title for June 17. Every student and staff member from Woodmoor gathered at the school’s drop-off circle that day to watch the unveiling of a street sign bearing the name “S Wharton Way.”

“This is very humbling,” Wharton, 54, said. “I wish everyone could have this, because it’s really a community and a team that works together here. It’s something I hope everybody would have the opportunity to enjoy.”

Wharton began his 32-year career with the Northshore School District in 1976, becoming a special-education teacher at Maywood Hills Elementary.

It was supposed to be a temporary thing.

“I figured I’d teach until I found out what I really wanted to do,” Wharton said. “Each year just kept getting better for me.”

He spent the next 15 years with Maywood Hills before moving to Fernwood Elementary, where he taught sixth grade.

Wharton later served as an assistant principal at Woodmoor and took over as the principal of Kenmore Elementary in 1994.

He became the head of Woodmoor in 2000.

“It’s been a highlight of my professional career to work at this school,” he said. “It emphasized the opportunity I’ve had to work with so many wonderful and talented people in the Northshore School District.”

Woodmoor represents a sort of microcosm of the entire district, as it serves a diverse population and offers many of Northshore’s special programs in one place.

The grade school enrolls nearly 850 students — making it one of the three largest in Washington — and is home to a heavy concentration of special-needs and low-income students.

Woodmoor also houses an Elementary Advanced Program for gifted children, as well as Parents Active in Cooperative Education (PACE) and English Language Learners programs.

“It’s an interesting mix,” said Northshore spokeswoman Susan Stoltzfus. “It all seems to work, which is a testament to Steve’s ability to lead a school.”

The Association of Washington School Principals recognized Wharton in 2007 by naming him as the East King County Region’s Distinguished Principal of the Year.

He had built a reputation by that time for fostering fellowship among students and working closely with the Woodmoor community.

“Whenever we came to him with ideas, he listened and did what he could to advocate for the kids so things would happen,” said Woodmoor parent Andrea Congdon.

Case in point: Wharton gave his blessing to the Buddy Garden project, which enabled special-needs children to learn about horticulture and gardening alongside traditional students with the help of raised planting beds.

“What I hope to have accomplished here is building a community where every kid feels connected to the overall school community,” Wharton said.

Woodmoor parent Karen Carpenter came up with the Buddy Garden idea and also implemented the project.

Wharton holds a bachelor’s degree in special education from Eastern University and a master’s degree in special education from Western Washington University.

He is a graduate of the Danforth Program at the University of Washington, where he received his principal credential.

Angela Kerr will replace Wharton at Woodmoor. She has been the principal of Kokanee Elementary since 2000.

Wharton said he plans to spend a considerable amount of time on the golf course after retiring.

“I hope to find out how much less expensive the weekday golf rates are compared to the weekend,” he said.

Cameron Varney’s fifth-grade class recognized Wharton’s retirement aspirations by singing “Follow the White Golf Ball” during a “Wizard of Oz” spoof.

The students also presented him with a pair of ruby red golf shoes.

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