The transition from Bev Cheney to Dave LaRose as superintendent of the South Kitsap School District will occur more quickly than expected.
Cheney, who turns 59 next month, announced Thursday that she will retire on June 30 instead of next year, as had been previously announced.
She said there are two reasons behind the change of plans.
First, Cheney said she wants to spend more time with her husband, Don, a retired teacher and consultant, and secondly, because she said trust issues between the public and school board repeatedly were expressed at recent school-board meetings.
“There seems to be some division,” Cheney said. “There needs to be some bridge-building and Dave is the only one who can do that.
“I know Dave can inspire people to embrace change,” she said. “It’s important that he establish his leadership now so that he can build on current successes to carry the district’s vision forward.”
Former school board member Christopher Lemke, however, blamed Cheney’s change of plans on the abbreviated hiring process the South Kitsap School District board used in selecting LaRose.
“The non-competitive process (the board) used ensured the board got their man without due process or consideration of finding the very best for our district,” Lemke said.
He believes the board was influenced by an e-mail from Greg Roberts, assistant superintendent of personnel and labor relations, that recommended LaRose for superintendent.
“I believe Beverly Cheney had no intention of retiring,” Lemke said. “I believe Beverly Cheney was pressured by the board with the e-mail to step aside.”
Cheney, who has guided SKSD since 2001, when she was hired from the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev., denied she was asked to vacate her position. She said she wasn’t upset with the process the board used to hire LaRose, but was surprised by the timeline.
“The board hired my replacement much sooner than I had anticipated,” Cheney said. “Dave is familiar with the district’s organizational structure, culture and operations. He also has established relationships with the community, so transition will be minimal.”
School board member Kathryn Simpson said the five-member group wasn’t aware that Cheney was reconsidering her retirement date when it decided to consider LaRose’s candidacy after interviewing three search firms on May 14.
Simpson said she and other board members learned about the possibility of Cheney’s early exit shortly thereafter, but said it didn’t place more urgency on appointing LaRose.
“I can only speak for myself on that, and I just wanted to get it right,” Simpson said. “In the end, even though some people were upset about the process, I believe we found the best superintendent possible.”
Not everyone is convinced.
Neil Pierson, who spoke out during the open sessions where community members were allowed to tell the board their thoughts on the process, said Cheney’s change of plans doesn’t validate the election process.
“My original concerns are still there,” he said, adding that the appointment came too quickly. “I think the students and the community deserve to get the best, most qualified person. And that involves an open process.”
LaRose, 42, was appointed superintendent at the June 4 meeting when four members of the board voted in his favor.
The other member, Naomi Polen, abstained.
LaRose said after the appointment his role as assistant superintendent for school and family support for SKSD wouldn’t change, but promised to work closely with Cheney during the upcoming year.
“It’s important to be purposeful about being with her, hand-in-hand, so we do have a smooth transition,” he said. “Because that’s really what this model is designed to do.”
LaRose did not respond to press inquiries following Cheney’s retirement announcment.
LaRose has served in his current position for two years and was hired by SKSD in 2004 as principal 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.
School board president Patty Henderson said the board was “very surprised” by Cheney’s decision because they expected her to stay until 2009, but said the board supports the move.
“We are sad to lose such a passionate and dedicated superintendent, but we support Bev’s decision to retire earlier than planned,” she said. “Although she will be greatly missed, we believe her legacy will continue with Dave’s leadership.”
Cheney said she hopes her legacy is that she empowered others in the district to pursue their ideas.
“Folks feel comfortable to come share their ideas and thoughts,” she said, noting that several programs have been established because of that.
A Seattle native, Cheney received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Washington and her doctorate in educational leadership from Seattle University.
She also previously worked in the Kent School District.
Cheney, who conservatively estimates she worked 13-hour days, doesn’t think she’ll struggle to adjust to retirement. She plans to remain in the area and said she’s willing to help LaRose at his request.
Besides that, Cheney said she purchased an 18-foot trailer with her husband and they plan to kayak, fish and hike on the Olympic Peninsula.
“Having served over 34 rewarding years in public education, I am really looking forward to pursuing my other interests,” Cheney said. “But I will greatly miss the children and staff who have brought me such joy during my career.”