Von Washington
Von Washington

Archived Story

Ex-Niles coach now principal at school welcoming Obama Monday

Published 5:17pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Niles Daily Star

On the day of Von Washington’s interview for the position of head coach of the Niles High School basketball team in 1998, he was a young, inexperienced man looking for his first head coaching gig.

Young, inexperienced and with a face full of chicken pox during the interview.

“They really took a chance on me,” Washington said with a laugh.

Four years and a trip to the state semifinals later, Washington was a polished, more experienced professional ready to take on the next challenge. He moved to Kalamazoo to continue his career in education.

Now he is the principal of Kalamazoo Central High School, a school of 1,700 students that will be honored to have the president of the United States speak at is graduation commencement ceremony on Monday at Western Michigan University’s University Arena.

K-Central earned the honor through the Race to the Commencement Challenge, a nationwide contest that looked for the school that best represented President Barack Obama’s stance on improving academic achievement and developing a college-going culture in America.

Washington certainly has played a significant role in K-Central winning a visit from the leader of the free world.

In Washington’s three-year tenure as principal, he has seen his school meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for the first time and the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes triple. There also has been more than a 300 percent increase in the number of African-American students taking AP classes.

“That really speaks to Obama’s goals,” Washington said.

Washington also has placed an emphasis on improving student government, resulting in an increase from 16 to 100 members in the student senate.

“The student voice has led to wonderful accomplishments,” he said.

It also doesn’t hurt that K-Central is a beneficiary of the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program that provides full-ride state college scholarships to all Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates, funded by anonymous community donors.

The K-Central boys basketball team also won a Class A state title this year, beating Niles High School in the district finals on the way. Add a second-place finish for the mock trial team at the state competition and an upcoming visit from Obama, and it has been a pretty good year for Washington and the Maroon Giants.

When K-Central received the phone call from the White House with the news, Washington said he felt “pure elation.”

“It was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “We are so honored.”

Washington said his experience as a coach in Niles was crucial in his development as a school leader.

“No question,” he said. “Coaching has been the backbone of all my learning experience.

The opportunity to work with young men and understand what they have to offer and how to help them grow in their roles, skills and abilities was valuable.”

Washington sees his experience in Niles as a launching pad of sorts into his current career.
“The time I spent in Niles was great,” he said. “I will never forget those young people I worked with. That opportunity led to other opportunities and I am truly thankful.”

Washington is looking forward to meeting Obama on Monday but is more excited for his graduates, all of whom will get the chance to shake the president’s hand.

“No one will forget this moment,” he said. “I hope they see they can do anything they set their minds to. (Obama) is just a man trying to do the best he can. He can’t achieve his goals without all of them.”

For Niles residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the president in Kalamazoo, forget about it. Graduating seniors receive only eight tickets each, and there are no tickets available to the general public.

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