Ms. Kathleen Coughran Seeks to Support Teachers and Create Avenues for Student Success As New Vice Principal of Academics


Maddie Khaw

“Our number one priority is that people are happy and healthy,” Ms. Coughran said. “If you’re not emotionally in it, there’s no way that you’re going to be successful academically.”

Olivia Galbraith, Editor

Being an educator runs in the family for Ms. Kathleen Coughran.

Ms. Coughran, the new Vice Principal of Academics at La Salle, is one of four siblings who all work in education. She is entering her twentieth year as an educator, and her first year as a full-time administrator. 

“I never really thought I would want to be an administrator,” Ms. Coughran said. However, when she previously worked at Central Catholic High School, she spent a few years as a teacher on special assignment (TOSA), where she learned more about administrative work. She taught math part time, and worked as an administrator part time with the Vice Principal of Academics at Central, who she described as “a wonderful example.”

While working as a TOSA at Central Catholic, she learned the ins and outs of being an administrator, from putting together a master schedule, to dual credit, to testing. Ms. Coughran said that the Vice Principal of Academics was “an awesome teacher because she… treated me like I was her equal,” she said. “Two minds work better than one, so that’s kind of what we did… it was a great learning experience.” 

Ms. Coughran’s first official day at La Salle was Nov. 9, but she got to know a few people in the La Salle community beforehand because of her connection to Catholic schools in Portland. Now, she’s working with the counselors in supporting students however possible.

“The counselors are working their tails off to support their students who are struggling, whether it be academically or socially or emotionally, and so I feel my position is to support the counselors,” she said. 

She said that it is important to make sure that students are on track academically, but “our number one priority is that people are happy and healthy… and then academics come second. I’m the Vice Principal of Academics and that’s hard to say, but at the same time, if you’re not emotionally in it, there’s no way that you’re going to be successful academically.” 

Ms. Coughran feels as though her main role is to serve as a support system for both students and teachers. With the current circumstances of distance learning, she said that the whole administrative team is thinking outside of the box, looking for ways to support students academically and socially. 

She said that as an administrator, it can sometimes be tough to bridge the gap between teachers, students, and parents, because “you have to balance all of those needs and make the best way forward… especially at La Salle, or at a Catholic school. We’re really trying to make it very individualized.”

Those “push and pull” pieces, she said, between students, teachers, and families will be one of the hardest things to balance for her. Throughout Ms. Coughran’s years as a teacher, she has found that communication is key in catering to students’ needs while also attending to the broader community’s needs. 

“The piece of communication and being open and honest… I think that’s [an] important piece of my job,” she said. 

Communicating within the administrative team so far has felt like a collaborative effort for Ms. Coughran. “That’s what I like about it,” she said. “I feel very supported by the counselors, by Ms. O’Brien, by Mr. Devine, by Mr. Kuffner.”

“It’s a nice feeling,” she said. “That I feel like I can have a real impact.” 

Having been an educator for 20 years now, communication plays an important role for Ms. Coughran as a teacher as well. She said that she excels in positions with students who are struggling in math, which she is endorsed for on her teaching license. 

“For me it’s about the student, it’s not about the content, necessarily,” she said. “I want to know why they don’t like [math], and then I want to dig deeper on that and help them figure out where they can find success.” 

Seeing students achieve their goals, self-advocate, and be successful is the most rewarding part of being an educator for Ms. Coughran. “Supporting students to their goals and seeing them grow… especially seeing them become young adults, and make decisions for themselves,” she said, “and start kind of figuring out who they are — I think that is the beauty of it.” 

Although communication is important to Ms. Coughran and allows her to construct relationships with students, she feels that, as an administrator, it’s going to be more challenging to build connections. 

“I’m not going to be in the classroom every day,” she said. “But, I hope — when we’re back in school — to be in the hallways every day, or be at lunch duty every day, or be at the clubs, or plays, or musical events, or sporting activities. All of those pieces [are] my way to get to know kids… that’s why I chose education.” 

She said that she hopes to help “create a robust academic program… and helping teachers be the best teachers they can be for the students in their classroom.” 

One of the many things Ms. Coughran is shooting for is to not only support teachers, but “create avenues for students to find success,” and look at different ways students can be successful, whether it be through the creation of new programs or classes.  

Before working at Central Catholic, Ms. Coughran worked at St. Thomas Moore as a sixth grade teacher for six years. After 12 years at Central, three of which involved administrative work, “I really wanted to try something different,” she said. 

Ms. Coughran then moved on to work with Portland Public Schools, teaching seventh and eighth grade math. She taught at Laurelhurst School and Rowe Middle School as well.

“Public school was unique,” she said. “There was a lot of policies and procedures in place, which was really eye-opening for me, to see what was in place at public school and kind of take that and see if we could use pieces of that here.” 

When the position of Vice Principal of Academics came up at La Salle, “it just seemed to make sense,” Ms. Coughran said. Her experience teaching in public school “was awesome, but I was just missing something.”

Ms. Coughran was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic grade school, high school, and university — the University of Portland. “I couldn’t really talk about my religion and my faith with public school kids,” she said. Because she had been a Catholic school teacher for 18 years, “to turn that off was really hard, and I didn’t feel that sense of community, not like I did at Central or I do here… I’m excited to be back in a Catholic community.” 

Though online learning has prevented Ms. Coughran from building connections with many students, she said she is glad to be back, not only at a Catholic school, but at a high school. “For the last year and a half or so, I’ve taught middle school,” she said. “Middle schoolers are awesome, but they’re not high schoolers.” 

Ms. Coughran initially went to the University of Portland to pursue elementary education, where she met science teacher Ms. Carie Coleman. Education, for her, is exciting because “every day is different.” 

Outside of work, Ms. Coughran loves tennis, reading, and being with her family. She also adopted a five-month-old golden retriever named Frances in July, so she also does “anything puppy related” these days.  

In the coming months of the school year, “there are a lot of things that I want to do,” she said, including building connections with students and staff and getting familiar with the La Salle community. 

“I’m really excited to be here,” Ms. Coughran said. “I don’t know La Salle like I knew Central Catholic, so it’s going to take me time… and having people be patient with me, but I also want to be patient with others as well, and I want to model that, but I’m excited.”