If you grew up in the 1980s and had a natural flair for adventure, you most likely watched the movie Top Gun and yearned to fly airplanes.
Most kids quickly grew out of that phase, but for Shining Mountain Elementary School Principal Paul Marquardt, the passion for flight stuck around for a while.
Marquardt, who was born and raised in Western Washington, originally planned on enlisting in the Army to fly helicopters, but he eventually decided to study aviation at Central Washington University.
As he progressed through school, Marquardt’s dream of becoming a pilot began to fade away. He went as far as earning some flight hours, but it was on a long, cross-country flight that he was struck by a thought: Being a pilot might actually be a little boring.
And just like that he was ready to move on.
With his Top Gun dreams behind him, Marquardt was left to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He took a career test in college that told him he was meant to be a teacher. It was an intriguing idea, but Marquardt had his doubts.
He knew teaching was difficult work, and frankly he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for it. That’s when he reached out to his dad, a truck driver by trade who had always wanted to be a teacher.
“He said, you have to do what’s going to make you happy,” Marquardt recalled his father saying. So I went for it. I decided to start taking classes to become a teacher.”
After earning his teaching credentials, Marquardt found a job at Camelot Elementary School in Federal Way. He loved the work, and he was introduced to mentors who instilled in him philosophies that he still uses today.
“That’s really where I learned you always base your decisions on what’s best for the kids,” he said. “I will do what’s best for the kids, whether it’s popular or not, whether it’s easy or not.”
As much as he enjoyed being in the classroom, Marquardt wondered if he could make a bigger impact on students as a principal. He eventually went back to CWU and earned a Masters Degree and was later named principal at Camelot, the school where he had taught for 8 years.
Marquardt spent six years leading Camelot before moving on to Olympic View Elementary, where he was principal for three years. Wanting a new challenge, he left Federal Way in 2013 to become principal at The Shining Mountain.
Like most teachers who move on to administrative positions, Marquardt missed seeing the day-to-day progress that individual students were making in the classroom. But he also knew the decisions he was making and the educational environment he was overseeing as principal could help even more students reach their potential.
Now instead of finding joy in seeing a student learn a tough math concept, Marquardt feels pride when his staff excels.
“When teachers start having success with something that you’ve helped them develop, and the kids have success as a result of that, that’s where you find your satisfaction as a principal,” he said.
Marquardt wants his school to be the very best in the district, and his toughest competition for that title might be in his own house. His wife, Lindsey Marquardt, is the principal at Rocky Ridge Elementary, and she’s fighting just as hard to make sure her school is the best.
It’s a unique situation that makes for a competitive household.
“During hiring season we don’t talk about who we’re hiring, because we will steal candidates from each other,” Paul Marquardt. “We’re very competitive, but very supportive of each other at the same time.”
Marquardt believes that competition has benefited both schools, and he has high hopes for Shining Mountain in the near future.
“We have some work to do at Shining Mountain, but I really like the direction we’re going,” he said. “We have some great teachers in the building. The group that’s here right now is very driven and very motivated. We’re becoming a family, so it’s fun being a part of that.”