When North Central High School senior Courtney Knutson walks onto the Podium stage Saturday afternoon and accepts her diploma, she will have completed an extraordinary journey.
That Knutson got to the finish line is a story of overcoming tough odds through hard work, quiet determination and, yes, perfection.
In 13 years at Indian Trail Elementary and North Central, she has never missed a day of class. That’s 2,340 days.
“I want all of you to see what perfection looks like,” NC principal assistant Mary Gustafson said during a recent ceremony to honor an achievement that no one at the school can recall.
“To us, you are Super Courtney,” Gustafson said.
But Gustafson didn’t just show up for school. She also made the honor roll, reached the regionals in gymnastics and donated time to charities – all while dealing with the challenges of ADHD.
Born in squalor to alcoholic parents, Courtney was two months shy of 3 years old and left unattended when she pushed her high chair against the stove in her family’s Deer Park trailer home and turned on the burners.
Her younger brother Zachery was born the next day, but neither would be with their birth parents again.
After shuffling through six different foster homes, the kids were adopted by Kelly Knutson, a single mom whose love and determination have seen Courtney through this journey.
“She’s been the biggest help of all,” Courtney said.
It was Kelly who worked with – and sometimes against – the Spokane Public Schools system to secure the tools that would help Courtney navigate a circuitous path to high school.
She struggled with textual inferences, “which makes reading difficult for her,” Kelly said. Despite that, she’s an avid reader.
Courtney was granted an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, during her time at Indian Trail. That was easy enough; the hard work came as Courtney was in sixth grade and finding her passion for science.
Two years earlier, North Central had opened its special STEM program, the Institute of Science and Technology. District officials tried to dissuade the Knutsons, setting up some contentious meetings.
“You have to fight for your child,” said Kelly Knutson, recalling the district’s struggles with inclusion – that is, including special education students in general education courses.
“It took a bunch of parents to say, ‘this isn’t right,’ ” she said.
Knutson believes things have improved, but at the time she was forced to cite the qualifications for a student – any student – to participate.
“The only thing required is a love and passion for science,” she told district officials.
That meant Courtney would spend the next six years at North Central, a place she grew to love so much she would stay long after the final bell.
“The thing that stands out the most about Courtney is that she often stays after class and after school,” said math teacher Matthew Halpin, one of her favorites.
“But the interesting thing is she’s always asking about me,” Halpin said. “Other kids might be respectful and say something nice, but Courtney is genuinely caring.”
“She’s always asking me, ‘are you taking care of yourself,’ ” Halpin said. “I just rarely see that in kids and adults – she sees me as more than a teacher.”
Courtney returned the favor. Halpin is one of Courtney’s favorites because “he’s made school a lot easier, making sure I turn everything in on time.”
Courtney also made meaningful connections with STEM teachers Alexander Karim and Brian Connelly.
She didn’t stop there. Twice she qualified for the regional gymnastics meet, and she found time to volunteer at Second Harvest and the school’s Senior All-Nighter.
Now comes the fun part, though Courtney won’t admit it.
At Saturday’s commencement at the Podium, she will wear a medallion for being the first in her family to go on to college.
“I’m going to be a nervous wreck,” she said. “But part of me will be super excited to be done.”
After that is another challenge, and Courtney is ready. Accepted into almost every four-year school in the state, she’s worried about going into too much debt and instead plans to attend Spokane Falls Community College.
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