Leading the Way: Lincoln High and Nate Gibbs-Bowling

It’s been quite the school year for the students and staff of Lincoln High School in Tacoma.

It all started in September 2015 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the historic school as part of his United States tour. And, later that week, Nate Gibbs-Bowling, who teaches AP government and human geography, was named the 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year. He later was honored as one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

Gibbs-Bowling exemplifies the school’s dedication to teacher quality and preparing students for college, work and life. Despite having one of the state’s highest percentages of high school students on a free-and-reduced lunch (78 percent as of May 2015), Lincoln High has produced a graduation rate of 82 percent. Lincoln also boasts a diverse student population that’s 28 percent African-American, 23 percent Hispanic and 13 percent Asian — just 25 percent of the students are white.

Gibbs-Bowling says Lincoln’s success comes from a high-quality teaching staff who holds students to high expectations.

“Lincoln High School is your typical, high-poverty urban school,” Gibbs-Bowling said. “So my students don’t have an uncle who’s college-educated. They have me. My students don’t have relatives who can take them on a trip to a school (college). They have us. So what we try to do is to get them prepared for the college experience.

“I have them for 55 minutes every day. So what do I do for those 55 minutes? I push them. I challenge them.”

He also engages his students on social media, asking questions, posting stories and reminding students of assignment deadlines under the name Abe the Emancipator — a play on the school’s nickname, the Abes. His students appreciate being held accountable and to a high standard.

“Abe, that’s our mascot, and what it stands for is ‘Absolutely Better Everyday,'” said Tania Gonzalez, a graduating senior at Lincoln. “And so we have that expectation here. It’s like our culture here. We have to rise up our challenges.”

Darien Williams, a graduating senior, agreed. “For this community, we have to overcome adversity, so when you’re in the classroom, this is like a lot of kids’ outlet. A lot of kids like being here, as opposed to other places. So when a teacher challenges them, it’s fun.”

Gibbs-Bowling’s platform as our state’s teacher of the year is teacher quality. He believes high-quality teachers working together can have a significant impact on student outcomes. He holds up Lincoln High School as an example of that. And preparing students for life after high school, particularly in Washington’s challenging and competitive high-tech economy, is what the teaching staff at Lincoln does best, he said.

“Our kids’ zip code doesn’t determine where they’re going ,” Gibbs-Bowling said. “Good teaching has the ability to transcend poverty. So I want Lincoln to be the point of destination where effective educators want to be because they know they can come here, be supported and make a difference.”