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Commodore Principal Catherine Camp retires

District Superintendent Faith Chapel reads from a children
District Superintendent Faith Chapel reads from a children's book at the start of her complimentary comments on Catherine Camp, who is retiring as principal of Commodore Options School, during an end-of-the-year picnic Tuesday at the school.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

Leave it to a math teacher to break it down to the numbers.

Paul Sullivan, a math teacher at Commodore Options School, stood in front of a crowded gym Tuesday and spoke on how the number 31 has influenced the world.

"Thirty-one is the atomic number of Gallium and there are 31 triads in western music," Sullivan said, his voice cracking with emotion. "There are 31 levels of existence in Buddhism, and there are 31 verses in the first chapter of the Bible."

The number 31 is also significant for another reason on Bainbridge Island. It is the number of years that Catherine Camp has influenced countless island lives and after this week, Camp will retire from her position as principal of Commodore Options School.

Hundreds gathered in the gym at the school earlier this week for an indoor picnic party to celebrate the career of the island educator.

"What really hit me was how many people were there from over the last 31 years," Camp said. "How many generations that were there that were part of creating the Commodore community."

An extensive table was laid out with an impressive array of cupcakes on display. The school's own marimba band entertained families as they shared their stories of Camp.

Sullivan wasn't alone in voicing his admiration for the principal. Bainbridge Island Mayor Debbi Lester read a proclamation that the city council recently passed that declared June 12 as "Catherine Camp Day" on the island.

District Superintendent Faith Chapel highlighted Camp's extensive impact in the district and how she shaped education on the island.

"One of the things that is a hallmark of Catherine Camp's career is she is a person with a passion," Chapel said. "A real visionary."

And just when the audience thought that nothing nicer could be said about Camp, she was serenaded by students spanning the grades of kindergarden to the eighth grade.

Generations have passed through Camp's schools. She moved into a tiny cabin on the island in 1981 when she took a job at Strawberry Hill Alternative School — a small high school of only 20 students.

Since then she has moved through the Bainbridge school system, helping it to evolve and serve not only students, but families better.

Chapel said Camp was largely responsible for the alternative learning programs on the island.

"It is just a part of her DNA to really think about types of learners, and strategies for addressing the needs for different types of learners," Chapel said. "She has been an advocate throughout her career for alternative learning."

Camp's work over the years culminated in the creation of the Commodore Options School, which serves students in kindergarden through the 12th grade and offers a unique approach to learning.

Students keep the same core group of teachers while studying over the span of multiple grade levels.

"It also looks at families at being the center of our children's learning," Camp said.

Now, with Commodore firmly established, Camp has set her sights on a new challenge — nothing at all.

"I want to see what it's like to have a day without anything on a day calendar," Camp said.

Camp won't actually be up to nothing, however. She and her husband plan on pursuing a "simple" project to begin her retirement.

"My husband and I are looking at reducing our carbon footprint," Camp said. "And we are looking into building a net zero home, and to live simply."

Camp is handing a legacy of education to the school's new principal, Dave Shockley, who comes to the island from Bellingham.

"It is nice to hand something off that is in really good shape and performing well," she said.

Camp said she is looking forward to life after retirement.

"I started this job when I was 30," she said.

"So I've had 30 years of growing I am looking to let my life quite down, and have a fresh eye on what's next."

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