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photo of school board at long tableThe school board prepares to hear from the public on choosing a new superintendent. From left: departing superintendent Mark Wenzel, school board chair Dana Stromberger, Mary Anne Quigley, Frank Kline, Don Calvert and Gary Marchbank.

Superintendent Search
School board hires consultant

photoN. Hanz Scholz asked for public input in selecting the new school superintendent.

Fifty-five people showed up Wednesday evening to hear the governing board of the Methow Valley School District explain its criteria for choosing a new school superintendent—and to offer the board some advice.

Superintendent Mark Wenzel, who has been with the district five years, will become superintendent of schools in Anacortes, Wash., on July 1. The board has hired a former superintendent and educational consultant, Monte Bridges, to assist in the search; he will be paid $16,200 for nine days of work, plus expenses.

Seventy people signed a petition to the board, presented by N. Hanz Scholz, outlining criteria they feel are important for the new superintendent to possess.

Scholz, who has two children in the district’s schools, told Grist he was motivated to get involved because “I’m a real proponent of customized learning” who fears the district’s focus on its successes with some students masks its failures with others. “Nobody says: ‘Here is the problem.’ It never comes up,” he said.

“Look at the failure rate,” Scholz said. “There are a tremendous number of students who are not being successful.” As an example, he said 30 percent of the students in his daughter’s 5th grade class are not meeting state standards.

“We have great teachers,” he said. “I feel we need to change the system around them.” And, he added, “I think we’ve had a real great superintendent. I’d like to replace him with somebody really good.”

The group met three weeks ago with valley resident and international educational consultant Rich DeLorenzo, co-founder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) method, which ties learning to student performance rather than grade level. That led the group to prepare its wish list for the board, said Scholz. The RISC approach was investigated by the district five years ago and was championed by former valley swim coach John Caesar, now Director of Technology and 21st Century Learning at Lindsay Unified School District in California.

photo"We can do better" in educating students, said Shannon Skibeness.

Among the group’s suggestions are that the superintendent “finds joy in children,” is a “brave advocate for the advancement of child development and success,” is “intellectually flexible” and has an “ability to listen with an open mind and to deeply understand others.” In addition, the superintendent should make “data driven, evidence-based decisions,” base “his own personal success on the success of subordinates,” “encourage and utilize feedback from all stakeholders” and be a “lover of problems, seeker of problems, undaunted by problems.”

Scholz asked the board “what level of commitment” it has to letting community members participate in the search for a new superintendent. Board member Frank Kline answered that the board intends to have “an open, intense process” but said the final hiring decision must be made by the board.

Board members stressed that they welcome public input. Board chair Dana Stromberger told the audience that the draft criteria outlining the “profile” of the superintendent the board is seeking to hire is open to additions from the community.

Among district priorities the board wants the new superintendent to carry out is expansion of the Five Dimensions (5D) framework approach to learning and teaching that was developed by the University of Washington. Training for full adoption of the 5D education model has been ongoing in the district and next year teacher evaluations will be based on adherence to that model, said Wenzel.

“We can do better” in educating students, said Shannon Skibeness, who added: “It’s the system, not that the teachers aren’t doing a good job.” She said she would like the board to adopt the RISC approach favored by Caesar. “There is no reason why we can’t implement some of the things he cares about,” she said. “We also need to get our kids excited about learning.”

“I can almost guarantee you’ll lose staff” if the 5D approach is jettisoned for another teaching method and the teacher training effort has to “start all over again,” warned Barry Stromberger, a vocational instructor in the district. He also urged the board to ensure that career technical education is emphasized in the curriculum and reminded the board of the importance of being vigilant about upkeep of school facilities.

“I think we all have a lot to celebrate,” said Liberty Bell High School English and Spanish teacher Adam Kaufman, who praised what he described as “a rich heritage” of community partnership with the schools. He noted that when a budget shortfall threatened teacher layoffs, “We all decided to take a pay cut” to avoid layoffs of teachers.

photo of audience at board meetingAbout 55 people showed up to hear criteria for choosing a new superintendent and to offer comments and advice.

“I’ve had kids in the school district in the last 30 years” as a father and grandfather, said Gordon Reynaud. “I have to say all my kids have had a great experience.” But in the last several years, he added, the district has “shown more purpose” than ever before in staff development and student learning. “Are there improvements to be made? You bet. But I disagree with those who say there has been no change. So I endorse the district’s priorities.”

Applications for superintendent are due by May 3. “I feel really good about the shape we’re in for finding another candidate,” board chair Stromberger told Grist.


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