Longtime Decatur High School horticulture teacher retires

Longtime Decatur High School horticulture teacher Justine McMullen will retire this year after 28 years of service. - Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools
Longtime Decatur High School horticulture teacher Justine McMullen will retire this year after 28 years of service.
— image credit: Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

Thousands of lawns and gardens are a little bit greener and brighter this summer, thanks to Justine McMullen.

McMullen, a horticulture teacher at Decatur High School, will retire this year after 28 years of service. The generations of students who’ve taken her class in that time will carry a little piece of her knowledge for the rest of their lives – using it to make the world more brilliant.

“The students are the greatest accomplishments,” McMullen said. “All students have gone into the horticulture industry in one way or another. Whether it is being a horticulture teacher, growing a garden, being able to have healthy houseplants, taking care of a yard, being able to recognize and identify healthy plants and flowers, becoming a good consumer of plants, fruits and vegetables.”

“The students take away something that can be applied to their lives, forever,” she said. “That is pretty amazing.”

McMullen, a former potato, wheat and alfalfa farmer, had a talent for making things grow that expanded beyond her farm. She earned a bachelor of science and teaching degree from Washington State University, and took her first teaching job at Decatur in the 1980s. There, she grew the horticulture program from barely a seedling into a flourishing career and technical education program – among the most successful in the region, school district officials said.

When she arrived, McMullen recalls working in two portables and a small plastic greenhouse with a dirt floor. Only three classes were offered each semester. Thanks to her leadership and the support of an advisory board, today’s horticulture complex at Decatur has a classroom, workroom, two storage areas, a walk-in floral cooler, two large greenhouses, outdoor areas and computers.

“It’s grown into a first-rate facility, one of the best CTE Horticulture Programs in Washington,” McMullen said.

Decatur now runs a full floral and horticulture program during all class periods, where students design planters and flowers, which are sold to the public or ordered by district employees, then delivered to school district sites and businesses in Federal Way. The money generated is put back in the program to expand sales and service. A worksite learning facility on campus gives students the opportunity to develop skill sets that can be applied in any job situation.

“Like all CTE classes we give students the opportunity to be successful, actively participate in programs where skills are developed that can be applied over a lifetime,” McMullen said. “It is an awesome responsibility, an honor and a privilege to have influenced so many students and worked with so many great colleagues. I am humbled by the teaching experience.”


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