Some kids want to grow up to play baseball or soccer, to be a doctor or lawyer, to be a police officer or firefighter. Not many folks are like Barry Warren. He always knew he wanted to be a school principal.

And now he is. But the road wasn’t always easy; it certainly didn’t happen quickly. That’s just what happens. In accomplishing career goals, sometimes it takes longer for some than for others.

That was the case for Barry, who would eventually find his way to a leadership certification program as part of WSU’s Ti’Tooqan Cuukweneewit project. It’s not that he wasn’t a go-getter. It’s just that he’s not one to jump in with both feet.

“It took me awhile,” he jokes. “I like to have things planned out and know all the details and what’s going to happen.”

Here are those details.

A rich Native heritage

Barry is enrolled with the Colville Tribe. His grandparents grew up and went to school in Inchelium, a town on the far eastern border of the Colville Reservation, nestled against the Columbia River.

A house fire caused Barry’s mom to move to Spokane. She met Barry’s dad and never went back to the reservation.

“I was an urban Indian,” Barry said. “I grew up in Spokane and went to Rogers High School.”

He still spent a decent amount of time in Inchelium. He has fond memories of summers with his grandparents.

“I always loved it there,” he said.

Little did he know that the possibility might crop up in the future to head back. The very distant future.

Career progression

Barry attended Spokane Falls Community College and then Moody Bible Institute Spokane, before transferring to the larger Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Armed with a scholarship from the Colville Tribe, he majored in elementary education.

When he was done with that, he attended George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon where he earned his Master of Education with an emphasis in upper elementary reading.

But if all this formal education was important, he got an even more important lesson as part of a summer internship in Nespelem of all places. The town is hard to find on a map and even harder to easily get to. Nevertheless, there it was, in the south-central part of the Colville Reservation, just waiting to help inspire Barry.

“There’s where I got my first Native language experience,” he said. “I got to take language with an elder in Nespelem. They were all about that. They said I was getting educated for the next generation. That kind of stuck with me.”

It stuck with him through marriage. It stuck with him through his first few years teaching in Beaverton, Oregon. It stuck with him as he and his wife entertained thoughts of teaching overseas.

“That didn’t really set well with me,” he said in regards to international teaching. “I really wanted to get back to the inland northwest.”

Specifically, due to his heritage and due to what that Nespelem elder Sarah Peterson had told him, Barry says he settled on only two things for his wish list. One of which was to be a principal, for which he wasn’t certified yet.

The other was just as important: “I also knew I wanted to work with Native American students,” he said. “Ideally, it would have been nice to work with the Colville Tribe, but I didn’t know at that time if that was going to be possible.”

It was possible, just not yet. The job market at that time was a little different than it is now. There weren’t a lot of teaching jobs that were open. Ultimately, he interviewed and ended up in the community of Hunters, right along the border of the Colville Reservation, with another lesson learned; slightly humorous now, though certainly not at the time.

“They called me on the phone after the interview and I took the job right then,” he said.

He just forgot one thing – talking to his wife about it first.

“I learned a lot from doing that,” he now jokes.

He immediately had an uphill battle getting back into good graces.

“We lived in a little shack in Hunters, and it was a terrible winter with, like, three feet of snow.”

Not all winters would be like this, thank goodness. In fact, Barry loved Hunters, and even got to work with students from the Spokane Reservation. He loved it so much that before anyone knew, 11 years had gone by. And he was still “just” teaching.

“I knew I wanted to get my principal certificate but the timing just never seemed to be right.”

Plus, it’s not like Warren disliked teaching or something. In fact, just the opposite.

“I loved teaching. I loved being in the classroom.”

He loved it enough that he spent the time and effort required to finish certification with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Then, he got a call out of the blue.

Principalship back on the radar

That phone call came from Teena McDonald, a long-time educator and educational administrator, as well as a clinical faculty member in the Educational Leadership Program of Washington State University’s College of Education. In addition to overseeing the principal certification program at WSU Spokane, she works closely with professional organizations and school districts from around the region.

Like a miner spotting gold, McDonald has the gift of identifying educators like Barry, whom she knows can create an even bigger impact than they currently do.

She asked Barry to consider principal certification.

He said no.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. What he really said was “not yet.” That being said, for an individual who had always wanted to be a principal but who year after year put it off for one reason or another, a “not yet” was essentially the same thing.

But if principal certification ever left Barry’s radar, it certainly didn’t leave Teena’s. Two years later, she called Barry once again.

She was a little more persistent this time around.

She said, “Barry, we have this awesome project. You have to do this project.”

“This project” was Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit. It was developed from a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education.

The project’s main purpose is two fold: first, it’s to provide support for the recruitment of Native/Indigenous teachers and education administrators, as well as training and professional development to individuals that serve these populations.

But as an alternate-route-to-teaching option, the project also works to recruit Native paraprofessionals who already serve in educational capacities. It is largely a way for paraeducators who may already have a ton of classroom experience to become fully certified teachers.

Even though Barry was already a teacher, there was also room – and financing – within Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit to engage principal certification candidates, such as Barry. The project would bring these individuals in with their knowledge of, and experience in, the Western school system.

To put it more plainly, Barry would also work with “coheart” members of Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit students to examine the intersection of Western education with Indigenous Knowledge Systems. In return, the program could help Barry pay for his principal certification.

He applied. He was admitted. And like a musician’s muse, the program gave Barry an unshakable feeling.

“I just kept having this feeling while I was doing this that I was going to end up on the Colville Reservation,” he said. “I didn’t know what exactly what that meant or what it would look like but I has this sense that I was working toward it.”

That was a motivator for him. Not that he hadn’t worked with Native students. He had worked closely with students from the Spokane Reservation. But this new feeling gave him hope.

“I really cherished the idea of getting back to my family and my homelands,” he said.

This isn’t surprising. It’s something that he said many Indigenous people experience when completing their education. It’s the innate draw someone might have to their ancestors.

After Barry finished his principal internship with the Chewelah School District, he applied for various principal positions, all of which would serve some population of Native students. Except, sometimes, the third time isn’t always the charm. After interviewing with three different school districts, he found himself as the odd man out in each one.

But that’s where fate kicks in. Fate and a man named Michael Dunn, who teaches principal certification classes for WSU. Dunn is also superintendent of NorthEast Washington Educational Service District (NEWESD) 101. Of all the ESDs in Washington, this one is the largest, serving seven counties, 14,000-plus square miles, and 59 school districts. And darned if Dunn doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of all of it.

Like McDonald, Dunn knew a winner when he saw it. He advised Barry of an opening in Inchelium and encouraged him to apply.

Whereas Hunters was on the east side of the Columbia River, and just outside of the Colville Reservation, Inchelium – and its 2010 census population of 409 – is on the other side of the river. That means that while it’s a small school district, hosting only a K-12 school and 213 students, it’s on the reservation.

Upon first hearing about the opening, Barry became nervous.

“I thought uh oh, this might be it. I don’t know if I’m ready.”

He was, though. Many others not named Barry Warren saw it. And just as soon as he walked in for his interview, doubt faded to excitement. And even more importantly, comfort.

“It was just a natural fit,” he says. “I went into my interview and there was pictures of my grandpa on the wall of the school because he was a World War II vet and they honor their veterans really well there.”

As it turns out, this genealogical history, and Barry’s Native perspective, was just important to current Inchelium School District personnel as it was for Barry. An offer was made. Barry accepted – having talked first with his wife, of course.

Well prepared for the new role

Barry says both the principal certification program and the Ti’tooqan Cuukweneewit project, helped get him ready for the next chapter in his life.

“Through Ti’Tooqan Cuukweneewit, I was able to network with a lot of folks from different tribes in the whole region, as well as learn and feel inspired on how to couple traditional Native education with current Western education,” he said. “I’m just really thankful to WSU, especially to (program administrators) renée holt, Francene Watson, and Susan Banks. Their hard work in making this program go will be worth it in the end.”

On the principal certification side of things, Barry says the program was “top notch” and challenging. He specifically made it a point to give kudos to two individuals: the aforementioned Dunn, and Gene Simenti, superintendent of the West Valley School District in Spokane.

“I only took Dr. Dunn for one law class, but he’s been very helpful in getting me ready for my first year as principals and anything I need through ESD now, I have that connection there,” Barry said. “And Dr. Simenti was amazingly helpful.

“These are just two well-seasoned veterans who just want to help.”

In the spirit of the beginning is the end is the beginning, it’s important to circle back around to how long it to Barry to figure it all out.

“Yea, it took me awhile. I like to have things planned out and know all the details and what’s going to happen,” he said. “But I’m thankful that I finally decided to do this and that the mechanism was in place to allow that to happen. I believe that things happen for a reason and that this was here at this moment to bless me and my family and I hope to reap the benefits from that for many years to come.”

To be clear, as Barry starts this new chapter in his life, he does not consider this a job. Not when it’s the Colville Reservation. Not when it’s in his ancestral homeland. It’s not a job, it’s a service.

“I’m excited to serve on the Colville Reservation. It’s just such an honor.”