In the Venn diagram of elementary school principals and musicians who have performed Britney Spears songs in front of hundreds of concertgoers, it’s a safe bet that David Cordell would be the sole occupant of the intersection.
Cordell, who is just entering in his third year as principal at Kapowsin Elementary, has been passionate about music for about as long as he can remember.
He’s an educator to the bone, but Cordell’s first love was music. He’s been in a number of rock groups since high school, and he still performs regularly with his current band, Trailer Park Casanova.
“I just like performing,” Cordell said. “It’s fun to see people having fun and know that you’re bringing them enjoyment.”
Had things turned out just a little bit differently, you might be reading about Cordell in the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine rather than in a school district publication. But instead of pursuing his rock star dreams, Cordell developed a love for education that kickstarted a long and successful career as a teacher and principal.
It wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Cordell would become a teacher. In fact, there was a time when he wasn’t sure he’d even graduate high school.
“I struggled, and I could have gone a different path in middle school,” Cordell said. “My older brother struggled and he never finished high school. My younger brother didn’t finish. I saw where I could have gone that way and not finished.”
Cordell, who grew up in Mukilteo and Bothell with his parents and five siblings, watched those struggles and knew he couldn’t follow that path. So he redoubled his efforts in high school. He worked hard, but he also met a few teachers who inspired him to continue his education.
After graduation he headed off to college at Central Washington University, where he pursued a degree in English. It was also in college that Cordell decided he’d like to try teaching. He thought back on the inspiring teachers he had and wondered if he could play that role for other students. So he earned an education endorsement, and after graduating he immediately did a year of student teaching at Kentwood High School.
Cordell’s first full-time job after Kentwood was at a middle school in Federal Way, where he taught history, geography, and language arts. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he absolutely loved being in a middle school.
“Middle school kids are tough, but I think at that time I was cool enough and young enough and understood kids enough to know when they just needed some slack and when they needed some time and when I needed to push an issue and when I didn’t,” he said.
He spent seven years in Federal Way, and it was there that he began to think about becoming a principal. Like most teachers who ponder the idea of moving on to an administrative role, Cordell was torn about leaving the classroom, where he was able to affect individual kids on a day-to-day basis.
“I told myself I would still be in the building and still see the kids,” he said. “So I still felt connected with kids. Even though I wasn’t teaching them, I was still immersed in them every day.”
Cordell’s first gig as a principal was at Roy Elementary. At the time, he didn’t know much about the Bethel School District and he knew even less about Roy, but he loved the idea of being part of a smaller, more welcoming community. He got that at Roy, where he spent three years leading the school, and he’s getting it now at Kapowsin.
“The (Kapowsin) community is amazing,” he said. “Our assemblies are overflowing because the parents and community are so supportive.”
At both Roy and Kapowsin, Cordell has worked hard to be the type of leader who is equally comfortable leading students and staff members. He wants his school to be a fun, comfortable place where students can get the best possible eduction.
“It was the same thing as when I decided to be a teacher. I wanted to have a positive impact on people,” he said. “I wanted to be someone who teachers felt they could come to and trust, and that kids felt they could trust.”
When he’s not at school, you can often find Cordell with a guitar in his hand. He no longer has dreams of becoming a famous rock star, but Cordell still has items on his musical bucket list that he would love to cross out.
One of those bucket list items was to audition for American Idol. Unfortunately, Cordell was too old to participate in the show. But when he learned there’s no age limit on the hit NBC singing show The Voice, he decided to try his luck.
He submitted an online video and was shocked to hear back from a show producer inviting him to Las Vegas for a live audition. As a seasoned musician who regularly sings in front of audiences, Cordell assumed nerves wouldn’t be an issue during his The Voice audition. He was wrong.
Everything was fine at first. Cordell, along with 10 other contestants, was ushered into a room to sing in front of a group of producers. Cordell was feeling pretty good as he began singing his rendition of Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me,” but then something changed.
“I sing all the time. I’ve sung in front of hundreds of people, but halfway through this song I felt my voice quivering. I was like, Why am I nervous? What’s happening?” Cordell said with a chuckle.
It wasn’t his best performance, so Cordell wasn’t surprised to learn that he wasn’t moving on to sing on the actual television show. Still, he had an amazing time and now has a story about almost making it onto the world’s most popular singing show.
Cordell doesn’t think he’d try out of any other singing shows in the future. Right now he’s pretty satisfied spending time with his wife and two adult children. He’s also completely happy with his professional life.
“This is my calling,” he said of his life in education.