His office was replete with Disney paraphernalia. Now Dave LaRose soon will be closer to his favorite theme park.
South Kitsap School District’s superintendent announced Friday that he will leave his position July 31. LaRose, 46, will become the superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District, which is about 35 miles from the theme park where he used to take his wife, Mindi, and two daughters.
He said family was the impetus behind his move to Southern California. His oldest daughter, 22-year-old Lyndsi, recently graduated from UCLA. She plans to settle in that area, which LaRose said is about 15 minutes from where he will live. The LaRoses youngest daughter, Madison, who recently graduated from Peninsula High School, decided in March that she would pursue a nursing degree at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. LaRose said she will be about a six-hour drive from the family’s new home.
“When Madison chose the pathway of nursing, we had conversations around those next steps,” he said. “As my wife and I enter a new chapter with our children, we want to and need to be closer to them, to be able to see them and support them as they transition into young adults.”
LaRose, who succeeded Bev Cheney as the district’s superintendent in 2008, said that could not have been accomplished effectively by remaining in SKSD. He said his work schedule would have limited his ability to fly to see his daughters.
“That works, but it’s just not the same,” said LaRose, referring to long-distance flights. “Anyone who knows me knows how much my family means to me.”
LaRose’s new school district features about 6,500 students, which is more than 3,000 fewer than his current job. But SKSD board president Kathryn Simpson said speculation that LaRose is leaving for anything other than family reasons is untrue.
“There is some speculation that Dave wasn’t invited back,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.
“This was a decision by Dave and his family. This is not a decision by the South Kitsap School District board of directors that we no longer want Dave as superintendent. I would love for him to stay.”
LaRose served as the district’s superintendent for school and family support for two years before he replaced the retiring Cheney. He became the principal in 2004 at Orchard Heights Elementary School after moving with his family from Gilbert, Ariz.
He was director of community schools there and guided before- and after-school programs, as well. LaRose also has been a teacher, middle school assistant principal and an assistant superintendent.
Before that, he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt., and a master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
School-board members were impressed enough with his experience to appoint LaRose on June 4, 2008, as the district’s next superintendent in lieu of a nationwide search.
“Dave has shown he’s a leader who can inspire us to achieve a new level of success,” SKSD board member Patty Henderson said at the time.
Simpson said she felt LaRose accomplished that.
“He’s done a great job of reframing the conversation,” she said. “He’s gotten staff more focused on the work we’re supposed to be most engaged with student achievement.”
He frequented local schools, where he would show up for anything ranging from a high-school football game to one of the district’s 10 elementary schools where he would don a Cat in the Hat costume on Dr. Suess’ birthday each year.
LaRose also would stop at places, such as the Southworth Ferry Terminal, to discuss schools with SKSD parents and community members. One of his favorite topics centered around the district’s “Whole Child” concept, which aimed to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged. In 2009, LaRose received the Washington State Whole Child Award for his approach to meeting the needs of all students.
“You can have the best textbooks,” LaRose told the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce in April 2010. “But if you’re in an environment where children don’t feel cared for or loved, it doesn’t matter.”
He was named the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce’s Man of 2012, which is selected by past recipients. Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce president Coreen Haydock called LaRose’s departure “a great loss for the community.”
“He definitely worked at pulling the community into the school district fabric,” she said. “He’s a great visionary.”
Now the school board will begin the process of finding an interim superintendent for the upcoming school year. Simpson said the board faces some challenges because the logical candidate for that position, deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner, died in April.
“Because of Kurt’s passing, we likely will look externally,” she said. “If an internal candidate would like to apply, they certainly are welcome and will be considered.”
Simpson said the school board, which will hold a meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the district office to discuss the opening, plans to hire a search committee with the goal of hiring an interim superintendent by Aug. 15. She said they hope to have LaRose’s successor identified by next April with a start date of July 1.
LaRose said the decision to leave was not made lightly. He and his family moved to the area when Mindi became concerned about changes she was seeing in her native Arizona. LaRose typed “Where should we live?” into a search engine, and findyourspot.com offered a comprehensive test on personal interests.
When the site suggested the family would fit best in Olympia, LaRose began to search for jobs in the region. He found one in 2004 at Orchard Heights, and the family moved to the Key Peninsula.
LaRose said leaving won’t be easy.
“I am heavy-hearted because this is a great community,” he said. “It’s been an incredible blessing to work in that environment and to be welcomed and treated with kindness.”