Ivan Corley was a late bloomer, partly because seeds of self-doubt had been planted around him since childhood.
That he bloomed at all is a credit to his teachers and coaches – the difference-makers who inspired him to become one himself.
Recently named the next principal at Lewis and Clark High School, he’s poised to help make a difference for thousands more.
“We want kids to be successful and we all want kids to have opportunities to thrive,” said Corley, whose background spans the breadth of Spokane Public Schools.
A teacher and track coach for 14 years at Shadle Park High School, he spent the next nine years as an assistant principal at Shadle and Rogers before taking over as principal of Grant Elementary in 2015.
“He has an incredible heart for students and families,” said SPS Superintendent Adam Swinyard .
Corley followed an unlikely path to school administration. The youngest of eight children, he endured a difficult home life “at a time when you didn’t share all those things, because they are embarrassing.”
When his parents divorced, Corley was raised “from birth to high school graduation” in Tacoma.
Even before that first-in-the-family event, Corley had almost given up on the idea of college. However, he was a champion sprinter with enough speed to earn the attention of Division I schools, including the University of Washington.
His choices constrained by poor SAT scores, Corley became a Prop 48 athlete and made the choice in 1986 to go across the state to Eastern Washington University.
During a meet, he met former Spokane Community College track coach Duane Hartman. Transferring to SCC, Corley eventually returned to EWU and earned his bachelor’s degree in education.
“Duane called me every week to see how I was doing,” said Corley, who graduated in 1992 and went on to teach English at Shadle Park.
During the next 14 years as a teacher and track coach, Corley said he learned that Spokane and its schools “have a sense of community and connection” and an ability to “rally around students and their families.”
Corley was able to relate to students through his own experiences, particularly in the case of Bryan Braman.
A future Super Bowl champion with the Philadelphia Eagles, Braman arrived at Shadle Park with the baggage of homelessness and abandonment by his father.
“I, too, grew up without having a father, and I know Bryan shared that,” Corley said. “He was definitely a kid who was looking for adults who believed in him. And not just by telling him how great he was or could be, but showing him what it would take to get there.”
A decade into his teaching career, Corley wanted to help point the way for more kids to succeed.
After earning his master’s in educational leadership at Washington State, Corley moved into the administration offices at Shadle for five years, then another four years at Rogers.
Rogers was led for 17 years by Wallace Williams, the first African American principal in Spokane Public Schools history.
In 2015, Corley was named an assistant principal at Rogers.
“The first time Ivan walked in front of students … if you could have seen the looks of some of my students as he walked on the stage,” Wyborney said.
“He’s worked with us on understanding our kids of color, and he understood what some of their needs are,” Wyborney said of Corley.
With Corley’s appointment to Grant, he was able to further refine his leadership style.
“I listen, I learn and then I lead,” said Corley, who promised that job one at Lewis and Clark will be to know the staff and know the community.”
“They’re going to share what needs to improve,” Corley said. “If we have this resource, the rest just comes out naturally.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.