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Superintendent Venable
Everyone's choice

Thomas A. Venable, deputy superintendent of the Bellingham School district, was selected by the Methow Valley School Board directors as the district's new superintendent Friday evening. Venable replaces Mark Wenzel, who resigned to become superintendent of the Anacortes School District.

photoSchool board member Frank Kline, left, board chair Dana Stromberger, and Thomas A. Venable enjoy a light moment during the serious business of choosing a new school superintendent.

"I'm thrilled," said board chair Dana Stromberger. "We had three high-quality candidates." The other two were Gary Keeler, an elementary school principal from the Northshore School District in Everett and Bob Cooper, director of visual and performing arts with the South Kitsap School District.

Each candidate met with groups of teachers during the school day as well as with members of the public in evening sessions where they explained their educational experience and leadership philosophy and answered questions. Attendees at the public sessions were asked to give written evaluations of each candidate, and every comment was read by every member of the board before the vote was taken, according to Stromberger.

"This is who the whole group wanted," said former board chair Mary Anne Quigley, alluding to teachers, the board and the public. "It's something of a miracle."

"He's had a vast amount of experience," Quigley said. "He did not come up to deputy superintendent in the usual path. He was plucked" because his talent was recognized. "He said something that really resonated with me," Quigely added: ``'Deliberate with caution. Act with decisiveness.' He's really a thinker."

Venable told the public audience Wednesday evening that he is the first person in his family to obtain a college education. "That wouldn't have happened if others didn't see things in me that I didn't see in myself," he said, explaining that as a youngster he struggled in school, especially with reading. He credited an eighth-grade art teacher for giving him the confidence to think of himself as college material.

A soccer player who coached at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and taught disadvantaged children in Baltimore, Venable holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Western Washington University and a master's degree in education from the University of Maryland. He is completing work on his superintendent's certificate at Western.

Deputy superintendent since 2011, Venable supervises 22 schools, including 14 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools and one alternative school. Previously he was principal of Carl Cozier Elementary School and Larrabee Elementary School, both in Bellingham.

Venable initiated a full-day kindergarten program for all 14 elementary schools in the Bellingham district in an effort to "close the achievement gap before it began" and said early childhood education is one of his chief concerns.

He cited Bellingham's on-line learning partnership with the Spokane School District, which offers some courses not available in Bellingham, as an example of the flexibility he'd like to see in course offerings for students.

Asked whether he believes class sizes should be reduced in the district, he answered that while class size is a factor affecting student learning, it's not the only one. The quality of the teaching is foremost, he said, adding that given a choice, "I'm probably going to invest in teacher development." In Bellingham, he said by way of explanation, it would cost the district $1.7 million to reduce class sizes by just one student per class.

Asked what he would bring from Bellingham to Methow Valley schools, Venable answered that before he can decide that, he first wants to learn what the district's needs might be. "I'm not looking to come in and turn the Methow Valley into Bellingham."

Venable and his wife, Annie, have two young children. He starts July 1, pending conclusion of contract negotiations.


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"Congrats Thomas!!"

Jeff Lyman