‘I’m overwhelmed, but I’m ready’

A conversation with NKSD’s new superintendent, Dr. Laurynn Evans

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School District has grappled with budget restraints, deferred facility maintenance, and transparency issues in the last few years.

Despite whatever issues there may be, NKSD’s Superintendent Dr. Laurynn Evans is ready to “dive in.”

Literally, when not working in education, Evans, an avid scuba diver for more than 15 years, is nearly 130 feet below sea level, exploring caves and participating in global environmental dive projects.

But her passion is really improving educational outcomes for kids.

“I like both the personal element and of education and the research element of education,” she said. “I love finding ways we can take research and turn it into reality to help kids have better outcomes.”

With more than 20 years’ experience in education, Evans has spent the majority of her career in public schools. She was a classroom teacher for many years in Texas and Washington state, before becoming an assistant principal for a 2,100-student high school in Mukilteo. She then served as principal of Rose Hill, a middle school in the Lake Washington School District and later as an educator at independent schools.

But as Evans now returns to the public sector, she said this is where her heart belongs.

“I believe in the power of public education for our students,” said Evans, who as NKSD superintendent succeeded Patty Page, who retired.

“I discovered through being out of public education that I am a public schools person. I believe in the opportunity and the equity that public schools bring to our local and national community.”

In addition, Evans said she feels a compelling urge to serve her community. She was born in Texas, but moved 10 times in nearly a decade as a child.

She and her husband purchased a home in North Kitsap in 2015, prior to the superintendent’s job becoming available. “We had made a decision quite some time ago that this was where we wanted to be our forever home,” she said. “When this position came across my desk, I thought the opportunity to live here and serve in my home community was very powerful to me.”

Evans said NKSD has some challenges.

“The No. 1 difficult reality, which is no secret, is we’re really struggling in terms of our expenses versus income,” Evans said. “Providing a quality public education program isn’t cheap, and providing a comprehensive program is difficult. We’re facing some tough budget realities.”

Evans expects the district will have a similar deficit in the 2017-18 school year.

Of the Legislature’s agreement on basic-education funding in accordance with the McCleary decision, Evans said the district is still trying to understand the implications for North Kitsap.

“It’s a complicated bill because there are a lot of moving pieces in it,” she explained. “OSPI said the changes are overwhelming and lead to more questions than answers. We’re trying to muddle our way through that and understand what that means for North Kitsap.”

As the district awaits clarification from the Legislature, Evans said NKSD is collaborating with local area districts, the Educational Service District and superintendents locally and across the state to hear what the funding package means for them and what it might mean for North Kitsap.

“We’re really going to have to step back to go forward,” she said of budgeting. “I would love to find the magic bullet, but I don’t think it exists. Potential levy measures might be something we look at, it may be looking at how we capture student enrollment, or it might be how we tackle different costs associated with the district.”

Other priorities?

“Coming to a place where we humanize what we do,” she said. “We live in an increasingly digital age. But teaching is an inherently human endeavor. School work and working in schools is an inherently human endeavor. When we’re working in that environment, we need to bring that human component straight to the front.”

Evans’s goal is to engage in what she calls “extraordinary care” to create a strong culture in North Kitsap schools. She classifies “extraordinary care” as being mindful of what’s best for students; doing everything that they can as a district to best support students; and establishing a personal connection and “human touch.”

“I’ll be working hard to be out in schools and visible,” she said. “The best way for me to understand what’s happening in our school is for me to see it myself.”

Thirdly, Evans said, “extraordinary care” means they are collegial as an organization, both within the district and in the community.

“Even if we disagree about something, we can still respect each other, understand our different perspectives, and then respectfully try to find a solution that [includes] input from all directions but ultimately [is] something we can get behind collectively and become partners in that work.”

Facilities issues are another concern on Evans’s list.

“We have some known deferred maintenance issues with our facilities,” she said. “That’s a can that’s been kicked down the road for a long time here.”

Though Evans said the issues are important to address, she said, “at this point it’s not really a can that I want to pick up.”

She said the district is looking at two potential measures for the ballot in February, one of them being a capital levy to assist with the maintenance needs.

Of NKSD’s past transparency issues, Evans said she feels the district is now on the right track.

“Of the board’s hiring process, I actually really appreciated how open it was,” she said. “I’m always open to hearing about ways to improve transparency. But I feel like we’re taking strides in that direction every day.”

The district is in the process of recruiting a principal for Wolfle Elementary School.

Evans said she’s seen many strengths in the district.

“Every single individual has expressed exactly the right intent and the right heart in their work in this district,” she said. “They’re here for kids and they want to see things improve for their kids. That doesn’t happen everywhere. That is a genuine strength we bring to the table as a district.

“Part of why I accepted the position here was once I met with all of the different constituent groups, I realized that there are people here who genuinely care. When you have a group of people that genuinely care and are committed to doing the right thing for kids, I sincerely believe that you can overcome some pretty big odds.”

Evans said NKSD has some challenges, but she feels NKSD’s administrators, teachers and staff do some incredible work.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy,” she said. “We’ve got some things we have to talk about and work through. But I really believe we’re at the cusp for a very transformational period for this district and I can’t wait to do the work.”

Evans summed up: “Let’s bring extraordinary care into the district. Let’s talk about how we’re going to resolve our budget issues, let’s talk about our facilities and a potential capital measure. Let’s start looking at the strength in our organization and celebrating that and lifting those people up and I think that will start charting our path forward in terms of what we can do for our kids.”

Evans said she is on the schedule of almost every service organization in Poulsbo and Kingston for the next eight weeks, and she plans to be a regular visitor at NKSD’s school campuses at the start of the school year.

— Sophie Bonomi is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact her at sbonomi@soundpublishing.com.