Spanaway Elementary School Principal Kim Kosa knows first hand what a great teacher can mean for a struggling student.
Kosa gets to watch her own amazing staff at work every day, but her history with inspirational teachers goes much deeper than that.
In fact, she credits an extraordinary third grade teacher for sparking her love of education and helping to shape her career.
Kosa, who grew up in Puyallup, had a difficult time in school when she was young. She worked hard, but nothing came easy for her. She remembers feeling pretty low about herself as she entered third grade at Fruitland Elementary, but that all changed when she met her teacher, Mrs. Burrows.
Like all great educators, Mrs. Burrows did far more than just recite lesson plans. She also knew when to build a student’s confidence and how to help them reach their full potential.
“She was inspiring to me, so that’s all I thought about — I want to be a third grade teacher because I want to be like Mrs. Burrows,” Kosa said.
From that moment on, Kosa knew deep down she would eventually become an educator.
Education was her passion, but it wasn’t her only interest. In middle and high school she ran track, and after being sidelined by an injury she became curious about how bodies work and heal. She headed off to college at Eastern Washington University with the goal of studying physical therapy, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that her heart was still in education.
After graduating with her teaching credentials, Kosa knew exactly where she wanted to do her student teaching — with Mrs. Burrows at Fruitland Elementary. After all, who better to learn from than the very woman that inspired you to become a teacher in the first place?
Her year with Mrs. Burrows left her energized and ready to work. As it happens, Kosa’s first full-time teaching job was at Spanaway Elementary, where she spent 10 years teaching first, fourth and fifth grades, as well as leading the school’s Title 1 program.
It was during those years that Kosa began thinking about transitioning into an administrative role. She adored her time in the classroom, but she also understood she might be able to help even more children as a principal.
“What got me excited about administration was thinking about the impact I could have on students while also collaborating with adults around teaching and learning and impacting students on a larger scale,” she said.
Once her mind was made up, Kosa returned to school to earn her administration credentials. She did her administrative internship at Graham Elementary, but then she hit a snag: When it was time to get a job, she didn’t see anything at an elementary school.
Elementary education has always been Kosa’s first love, but after getting words of encouragement from her mentor — Graham Elementary principal Amy Low — she decided to take a job as an assistant principal at Frontier Middle School. She hadn’t so much as stepped foot inside a middle school since she was a student, and she admits she was initially terrified by the job.
Kosa spent two years at Frontier, and she wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
“It was the best thing I could have done to prepare myself to become a principal,” she said of her time in middle school. “It also forced me out of my comfort zone, and when you’re out of your comfort zone, that’s when you learn the most. I grew so much as an administrator because of that experience.”
During her time at Frontier, Kosa heard the principal job at Spanaway Elementary was opening up. It seemed too perfect not to apply. She was ecstatic when she learned she’d been hired, and that joy hasn’t waned in the four years she’s been on the job.
She knew she loved working with children, but Kosa was pleasantly surprised by how much satisfaction she gets from working with adults — both parents and fellow educators.
“I get to see those ‘aha moments’ with kids, but I also get to see those moments with staff, and even with parents when they’re seeing the great things that are happening in this school,” she said. “That wonder and curiosity that kids have, adults have that too. And it’s neat to see that when we’re growing together.”
Kosa is proud of her school and the culture that she and her staff have created over the past four years. She said it’s been amazing to see parents buy into the program and work hard for their children.
“They walk in and they feel that warmth and sense of community,” she said. “But they’re also going to feel a sense of high expectations.”
When she’s not working, Kosa loves nothing more than spending time with her family. Her 16-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son both play competitive soccer, so Kosa and her husband can often be found rooting them on from the stands.
Leading a school doesn’t give you much time for hobbies, but before she became a principal Kosa had a hobby that might surprise many of her Spanaway Elementary families: Hula dancing.
Yes, Kosa danced Hula. And she did it semiprofessionally. Along with several other dancers — including her daughter — Kosa would perform all over the area. They danced for soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and at local nursing homes, among other venues.
Kosa’s husband has family in Hawaii, and she was always fascinated by the culture, so when her daughter expressed interest in Hula dancing she decided to give it a shot.
“It was an awesome experience to be able to learn about a culture through dance,” Kosa said.