1:05 p.m. – Mr. McNeese’s gym Class
The eighth-grade PE class taught by Dan McNeese ’06 is short one player for a game of pickleball, so McNeese, 26, joins a team and starts swatting at the ball. McNeese says that, as a beginning teacher, he doesn’t get much in pay. But he absolutely has the best job he can think of.
On the way back into the gym, McNeese greets Steve Holmfeldt, who was his football coach when McNeese attended Cascade.
“At first thought I wanted to teach high school,” he said, herding the students into the locker room. “But once I got here, I didn’t want to leave.”
1:20 p.m. – Cascade Middle School courtyard, next to the gym
Isaiah Johnson is watching Dan McNeese take his last class out on the field. The courtyard is clear, and most of the school is on a field trip to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. It is a rare moment of quiet at Cascade Middle School.
Johnson is tired, but it’s a contented tired. He talks about his goal of building a school where every staff member, student and parent takes an invested interest in the school’s success. “We’re getting there slowly, but surely,” he says.
They aren’t there yet and Johnson says he’s made his share of mistakes.
But he thinks they are on the right track. “I’ve learned a lot this year,” he says. “It has not been easy.”
He says even the bad days are worth it, since he firmly believes that middle school is the last best chance to reach kids. Especially students dealing with troubled home life, gangs and poverty.
“I think this is our last chance with them, not that it can’t happen at high school. But it’s a lot less likely.”