By Kate Scriven
North Thurston Public Schools is not the new kid on the block. The district, founded in 1953, currently serves over 14,000 students with enrollment increasing every year. Serving the northeastern section of Thurston County, it’s the most ethnically-diverse district in the South Sound and boasts 21 schools.
NTPS shines in educating the whole child with programs for early academic interventions, accelerated and challenge programs for gifted students, state-ranked athletics, and nationally-acclaimed theater and arts programs. The combined effect of a North Thurston education are graduates who don’t simply succeed, they excel.
NTPS have turned out many amazing athletes. Kasey Keller may be the best known among them, graduating from North Thurston High School. His professional soccer career includes play on the U.S. National Team, several international clubs, and the Seattle Sounders. Keller was named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year an unprecedented 3 times. He remains in the Pacific Northwest, living in Seattle with his family. Jonathan Stewart, a legendary rusher at Timberline HS between 2001 and 2004, excelled at Oregon and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2008. The 13th overall draft pick, Stewart is considered one of the best running-backs in the NFL.
North Thurston alumni are making their mark beyond athletics. Take River Ridge ’97 grad, Liz Garrett, who appears on Bravo’s “Around the World in 80 Plates” in her position as Chef de Cuisine of two hotels in Los Angeles. Maren Connolly, also a River Ridge ’97 grad has achieved success as a veterinarian at the Dallas Zoo.
Read on to learn the stories of a few grads making North Thurston Public Schools proud.
Patrick Quimby – A Scientist Playing with Metals and his Cello
Patrick Quimby grew up in North Thurston schools, graduating from River Ridge High School in 2000. Quimby then headed east to Michigan Technological University (MTU) to pursue a degree in Materials Science Engineering (MSE) which he received in 2004. He began his master’s program shortly thereafter and was hired in 2007 by MTU as the Laboratory Coordinator, supervising the metal casting facility, or “foundry”, where he oversees projects examining the microstructure of metal alloys – basically, creating and casting better metals to create better products. He likes to say, “I get to play with all the fancy toys!”
When asked about the biggest influences on his success, Quimby surprisingly, for a scientist, credits his experience in orchestra beginning in fifth grade. He notes influence from Donna Moore, Chip Schooler, Grant Sears, and Brent Pearson. Orchestra taught him, “to be part of a team working toward a common goal. No matter how much you practice, there will always be room for improvement.” This lesson is used daily at MTU and as he plays his cello in the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra.
While music is a top influence, Quimby knows the college prep courses put him ahead academically. He credits his vocational classes for teaching him the importance of “getting his hands dirty”. Materials Science Technology at River Ridge High School led him to MSE. “When you are good at math and science, people always say, ‘You should be an engineer,’” explains Quimby. “But what they should say is ‘Who likes to play with toys and explore things?’ If you do, you should be an engineer.” Pat knows that whether in the lab, orchestra, or writing a paper, it was the teachers who stressed critical, independent thinking that made the difference. “In a society where information is all around us, being able to discern truth from fiction and making a good decision is what everyone should know.,“ summarizes Quimby.
Brandy Nichols – A Teen Mom Beating The Odds
Brandy Nichols could have been a statistic. Pregnant at the end of her sophomore year at River Ridge High School in 2000, she was scared and wondering what to do. Thankfully, Nichols had access to NTPS’ South Sound High School, a small, alternative school which offers daycare as well as parenting classes and resources for teen moms.
Nichols knows that the people at SSHS were what made the difference. Cathy Coss (a daycare teacher), Anita Nowacin (parenting and life skills teacher) and Casey Ward (school counselor) are individuals who Brandy credits with her success. “They pushed me to stay in school and finish strong.”
Casey Ward shared advice with Nichols that stuck through the years. “He said not to become a statistic – ‘finish school, go to college, get a good job for your family. He told me to not settle or be a welfare mom – to make something of myself.” Nichols graduated early and walked in June 2001 with her 1-year-old son.
Nichols is now a full-time Legal Assistant at the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. She earned her Associates Degree from SPSCC as a Paralegal in 2006, making both the Dean’s and President’s List, all while raising two young sons and working full-time. She is only a handful of credits away from her bachelor’s degree with plans to attend law school at Seattle University.
“I can say now, if it weren’t for SSHS I wouldn’t be where I am today. I can’t tell my kids to reach for the stars if I’m not willing to do it myself,” says Nichols
Ian Eisendrath – Dreaming Big From Lacey to Broadway
Ian Eisendrath’s passion for musical theater at a young age led him to Timberline’s theater program. The school’s program has a reputation for excellence under the outstanding guidance of Brenda Amburgy. Eisendrath thrived here until graduation in 1996. Amburgy gave him the opportunity to direct several of the school plays, a chance not often extended to students. “Ian is one of those students you knew would be successful because of his talent and perseverance,” recalls Amburgy. “Timberline gave him the opportunity to experience as much theatre as possible as an actor, singer, pianist, director and academic student. “
Amburgy arranged for him to work with Harlequin Productions, in downtown Olympia during his sophomore and junior years where he served as Musical Director on five shows. “She was always in my court and supported me as much as my parents,” recalls Eisendrath. “She empowered and motivated kids, allowing them to take risks that they might not have taken otherwise.” His experience led to the University of Michigan and a degree in Conducting Musical Theater and Choral Music.
The next choice was to either head for Broadway or return to the Pacific Northwest? Eisendrath read about the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle and their commitment to developing their own productions. He was hired as the Musical Supervisor and has directed and conducted countless productions including West Side Story, Sweeny Todd, Miss Siagon, and A Christmas Story. He recently began as Director of New Works, a position allowing him to develop new musicals from “page to stage.”
This holiday season, Eisendrath’s Broadway dream came true. A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s famous quest for the Red Rider BB Gun, which Eisendrath developed and staged at the 5th Avenue Theater, made its Broadway debut to rave reviews. Eisendrath, his wife Anne, and their 3 young children moved to New York for four months during production.
Eisendrath credits the “overwhelming support of the Arts at Timberline and throughout the Lacey community for my success and the solid start I had in my career.”
Ryan Skeen – Fashion Forward Designer
North Thurston High School 2004 graduate Ryan Skeen may not be on TV, but her life is a bit like the hit show Project Runway. Currently in LA working as a fashion designer, she began her journey to a fashion career right here in Lacey.
She cites NTHS’s business classes with providing the background and skills for her career. Specifically, the Marketing classes with Ms. Reed and Mr. Meyer. “They really emphasized the importance of knowing your customer and how to market to their needs, not just your taste. This is so important to making it in fashion,” shares Skeen.
Her closest ally at NTHS was Mrs. Nagel who taught classes on selling and oversaw Fashion Club. Nagel and Skeen have kept in touch and Nagel even visited Skeen in LA when she was a student at Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising (FIDM).
While her business courses were important, she sites her time on the soccer field as a formative experience. “Being a member of the team taught me a lot about working with others, looking for their strengths and knowing mine,” Skeen relates. “In fashion, a lot of the work is done in teams and working together is essential.”
Skeen has freelance designed for companies such as ROXY and Billabong and also designed a large portion of the Moxie Girls Doll line. Currently, she is focused on launching her own swimwear line, Beachcraft Swimwear. The line will showcase fashion forward, fun suits that are still classic and modest, a niche that Skeen sees as lacking in the current market. “I love fashion,” says Skeen, “and the good education I received at NTHS allowed me to do what I love. I’m so thankful for that.”
These are just four of the success stories about graduates of North Thurston Public Schools. Quimby, Nichols, Eisendrath, and Skeen though, exemplify the variety, quality and consistently compassionate education that all students receive in North Thurston schools.