Before she would talk about herself, Cathy Sork wanted to make one thing clear.
“I stand on the shoulders of others to get me here, and there are so many people who don’t get recognized,” she said.
Sork, the principal at Dorothy Fox Elementary School in Camas, was named the 2024 Washington State Elementary Principal of the Year on Wednesday by the Association of Washington School Principals.
Now in her 18th year in the position, she said she realized a few years into her time at Dorothy Fox that “the grass isn’t greener anywhere else.”
“I started my career in a bit of a rat race. I kept wondering how I needed to keep growing and climbing,” she said. “My biggest ‘aha’ in my career was when I finally took a second to pause. When I looked around, I realized Dorothy Fox was my home. I just have so much fun. I’m wise enough to realize how lucky I am to be in a job that gives me joy.”
The award is given to an elementary school principal and a secondary principal each year who exhibit “exceptional contributions to education, … unwavering devotion to student success and … leadership excellence.”
Other district leaders in Camas were quick to praise Sork for the award.
“Dorothy Fox Elementary and the entire Camas School District have long benefitted from Dr. Sork’s innovative leadership and dedication to her students,” Superintendent John Anzalone said in a news release Wednesday. “She leads with her heart every day. This recognition by (the Association of Washington School Principals) is well-deserved and speaks to her positive impact on our community.”
Educators are often known for their selflessness; Sork is no different.
“It was quite a surprise. I was in a meeting here on campus and an announcement came over the intercom that the whole staff needed to meet in the cafeteria,” she said. “I immediately thought, ‘OK, what’s wrong?’”
In the cafeteria waiting for her, of course, were school staff and state leaders beaming with pride, ready to present her with the award.
Reflecting on what the accomplishment means to her career, Sork thought back to her own childhood in a family of educators. Growing up, her father, mother and stepmother were all educators — the latter two each being elementary school principals. In recent years, however, both her mother and stepmother died from cancer.
“It was hard not being able to share this with them,” she said.
Of all the lessons they taught her as a child and young adult, there’s one that still sticks out to her the most.
“They helped me feel confident that I am capable and that my best work is enough,” Sork said. “Do your best, commit fully and it’ll be enough. I was finally at peace with that; it took me a long time to realize that and move past my insecurities of whether I was meaning enough to others.”
Advice to others
As she became a more experienced educator and principal, Sork became involved in the Association of Washington School Principals — an organization that offered her a chance to connect with both mentors and mentees in similar positions.
“I’ve really leaned into using that network more. I wish I had taken advantage of it earlier on and wish others were more aware they have that support around them,” she said.
To others perhaps inspired by her career, Sork is quick to remind that she’s not the only educator worth hearing praises.
“Often, people do notice the work you do, even if you don’t know that they’re noticing,” she said. “For almost any principal: to their kids and their families, they are the principal of the year. The relationships they build, they matter.
“The impact you make on the right day, in the right moment, it adds up.”