Principal Kevin Ikeda keeps them learning – and laughing – at Stadium High School

Ikeda’s abiding love for young learners is at the heart of everything he does.
Credit: Tacoma Public Schools

Spend a little time with Stadium High School principal Kevin Ikeda and within moments he is bound to make you laugh. His splendid sense of humor is one of the best things about this beloved educator, and he shares it liberally to the delight of Stadium students and staff.

Case in point: that hilarious “Snowmageddon” video last month showing what the school principal does on a snow day when the halls are empty, the brainchild of Kevin Medford and Casey Madison in the Public Information Office. (Think of Ikeda as an Elvis impersonator in a Hawaiian shirt doing magic tricks for a stuffed animal audience and zipping unencumbered through the hallways on a Segway). Check it out on YouTube and you’ll probably watch it again and again as more than 2,300 viewers have done so far.

But all kidding around aside, it’s Ikeda’s deep dedication to students that really stands out, as he is committed to making sure that students lead a life of success in whatever it is they choose to do. A former student posted this in the comments under Ikeda’s YouTube video: “Mr. Ikeda, you were a pivotal role in my life at a time when learning was difficult for me. You came in as a substitute teacher at Hunt Middle School and made a major impact on me that I will never forget and have always wanted to thank you for it. Thank you for your dedication to the students and making sure that they can do the best that they can at all times.”

“Like any school with 1,500 kids, we are like a small town,” Ikeda said in a recent interview. “In any small town, you have every kind of person in there and that’s what Stadium is – a diverse community. I enjoy meeting the kids, getting to know who they are and where they’re at, interacting with them… I just hope that they all succeed. My goal is that I can help reach every single student and that they have a plan after high school – a vision for something they want to do in their future.”

Formerly the principal at Gray and Meeker middle schools, Ikeda came to Stadium High seven years ago at the request of Tacoma School District Superintendent Carla Santorno. In fact, Ikeda’s teaching career started in Tacoma at Hunt Middle School where he was a math teacher. He then moved up through the ranks, working at Wilson High School, Foss High School, and as a Stadium High math teacher before going into administration.

Ikeda also worked in Japan prior to going into the administrative field with Tacoma Schools. At Kindai University, a private university in Osaka, he ran the football program and worked in the student affairs department. After returning to Tacoma to help care for his ill father, Ikeda was headhunted by a corporation in Japan and he returned to engage in international business. “We worked with the fifth largest supermarket and boutique store chain in Japan, and did a lot of business with Europe and America.”

Ikeda says that one of the strengths unique to Stadium’s administrative team is that they live in the area they work in, and their children attend, or attended, Stadium High School. “We look at things from a perspective of educator and parent. What do the parents want best for their child? Obviously, we want that too so we try to create an atmosphere like that. That’s a unique focus because usually administrators live outside (the area) – there’s not that community connection. That’s the uniqueness of our team.”

Both of Ikeda’s children are Stadium High grads. Son Bryce graduated in 2015 an now attends the University of Rochester where he is the most decorated soccer player in the university’s history. “No one is better than him,” said his proud Dad. He is equally proud of daughter Madison, who graduated from Stadium in 2012 and now works as an Engineer II at Starbucks headquarters. Mom Mayumi Ikeda worked in research at Weyerhaeuser and is now retired and enjoying life with husband Kevin when he’s freed up from his principal duties, which isn’t often.

Born and raised in Hilltop, Kevin Ikeda is the only child of his parents, both of whom spent time in internment camps during World War II. The couple later opened Family Cleaners, a very successful dry cleaning service in the Hilltop neighborhood.

“Back then there was a large Japanese community in this area, and a lot of the cleaners, gardeners and manual laborers were Asian,” he said, noting that he holds fond memories of Hilltop as he watched the community there grow and change.

After graduating from Wilson High School, Ikeda attended the University of Washington to earn a bachelor of arts then Western Washington University for his masters in education. He played football at UW, and there he met head coach Don James, a man who would have a lasting impact on Ikeda.

“He called me in my senior year and told me that I’d make a better coach than a player, so I became a graduate assistant (GA) and coached the defensive line under (assistant coach) Jim Heacock. Because of that, I continued to coach at Western Washington. Then I had offers from Japan (to coach football), so I went there,” Ikeda said.

“My inspiration to get into teaching and learning was from Don James. He inspired me to be a coach. I try to infuse coaching philosophies from a leadership standpoint. I’m a principal and coach and that’s what drives me.”

Ikeda said that the way the job market is right now, there are three areas that he focuses on for students’ future careers: healthcare, environmental sciences and technology. “Those three are really going to take off in this area and getting students ready for those skills is something I want to make sure they have before they leave here.”

Considering how much graduation rates are up across the district, as are college entrance rates, seems that Ikeda has the right idea. “Last year we sent students to M.I.T., Stanford, Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, UW, WSU, Central and Western Washington University, Gonzaga, UPS, PLU….,” and other universities in addition to these.

When asked at what point he plans to retire, Ikeda said that he doesn’t see himself as retired. “I’d like to work as long as I can. After that I would serve the community in some way and be an entertainer on the side – a street entertainer to make money and give to the homeless.” Then that wonderful sense of humor shows again. “I’m thinking country western on the ukulele. That’s a niche market. You know what happens when you play a country song backward? Wife comes home, dog comes home….”

Having a bad day? Mr. Ikeda will cheer you up, no problem.

“I still believe that the greatest freedom is in education. Be a great writer, great reader and great thinker and problem solver. If you have those skills, you’re going to be able to figure out life. High school is not the end. Commencement is the beginning.”

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