Superintendent candidates stress relationships, rigor and relevance

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School Board interviewed the six semifinalists for superintendent Feb. 25 at the district office and will narrow the field to three finalists.

Those finalists will be asked to return for a day to meet and make presentations to staff, families, and the public. Those “meet and greets” are scheduled for March 6, 7 and 8. The board is expected to name a new superintendent at its March 25 meeting.

Christine Moloney, Ed.D., led off the morning set of interviews. She was one of two candidates with a doctorate. Moloney is chief academic officer for the Puyallup School District.

She was followed by Martin Brewer, superintendent of the Pioneer School District in Shelton. Brewer was one of only two candidates who is currently a superintendent, albeit in a much smaller system.

Ray Houser, executive director of assessment and student services for the Marysville School District rounded out the morning. He was the only candidate with first-hand experience in helping students and staff deal with a school tragedy.

Kelly Raymond, instructional leadership executive director for Highline Public Schools in Burien, led off the afternoon slate of candidates. A native of Australia who has been a U.S. citizen for 14 years, Raymond was the only candidate with international school experience.

Kurt Hilyard, superintendent of the Union Gap School District, was the second to be interviewed and the other candidate with superintendent experience. Of all the candidates, he appeared to have the most experience working in school districts with large numbers of ethnic and low-income students, both in Montana and Washington. Like Brewer, however, these were much smaller districts than NKSD.

The final candidate was Laurynn Evans, Ed.D., assistant head of school at the private Francis Parker School in San Diego, California. Because she had a prior commitment in Washington, D.C., her interview was by videoconference. Her goal is to return to the public school setting. She and her husband had already bought a “forever home” in Kingston when the NKSD position became vacant.

Of the six candidates, doctors Evans and Moloney were the most active in state and national educational organizations. Moloney, for example is an adjunct faculty member at the City University of Seattle while Evans is adjunct faculty at Seattle Pacific University.

“Any one of them would make a good superintendent,” said Mark Venn of Northwest Leadership Associates. Made up mostly of retired superintendents, Northwest Leadership Associates assists school districts in recruiting new leadership.

The candidates’ responses

Retired North Kitsap High School teacher Jim Behrend summed up what he thought the board should be looking for. “We want a leader rather than a ruler,” an apparent reference to the management style of the outgoing superintendent, Patty Page.

Over the course of the day’s interviews, it became apparent that all six of the candidates shared similar philosophies and management styles. None of them heard another’s comments, yet they all said pretty much the same thing.

The themes all of the candidates emphasized could be summed up by the first candidate’s emphasis on the need for “relationships, rigor and relevance.”

“I’m open, honest and transparent,” said Moloney, who believes that relationships must come first in order to achieve ownership — and that means “getting out and meeting people.” Moloney said that means having a vision, setting a plan and following it.

Brewer said a new superintendent must learn to listen, learn and then apply what he or she has learned. “You learn more by listening than you do by talking.” Like all of the candidates, he said he is a big fan of face-to-face communication with staff, the board, students and their families, and the general public. “You have to model what you preach. It takes time to develop meaningful relationships. Trust comes from true, honest, open, authentic dialogue.”

Establishing a clear mission and vision is central to rigor, said Raymond.

Evans said, “A mission statement should be short, sweet, memorizable and memorable.”

The candidates all agreed that the superintendent is the face of the school district, and that means being active in the district — and living in the district.

“We need to meet people where they are and not expect them to come to us,” said Brewer.

All of the candidates said they would meet with Tribal leaders in order to better understand their culture and to determine how better to help meet the needs of Native American students in the district.

Finally, in all of the candidate’s remarks, the discussion always came back to the students: meeting their needs; making the curriculum relevant.

The board’s concerns

In addition to answering the board’s questions, the candidates also had an opportunity question the board about what it sees as the greatest challenges in the future and plans for the future.

The budget was the greatest concern and this is reflected in the questions the candidates were asked. All the candidates spoke about the need to get good demographic information, to compare projected enrollment with actual enrollment and to always think conservatively when it comes to how many students district will be serving.

Relations with stakeholders was the second greatest concern of the board. They acknowledged that relationships have sometimes been strained under the current superintendent.

With regard to boundary changes, the board said it has chosen not to look at changes this coming year. But, the new superintendent will have to address the fact that growth is happening in the southern half of the district and that overall capacity in some areas is a problem. There are challenges to do to the physical landscape of transporting children from the west to the north side of the district. The goal is that no bus ride should take longer than 45 minutes.

Likewise, the board is still exploring whether to use a capital levy or bonds to raise the $500 million needed to upgrade buildings. Along with that comes the need to grow the district’s foundation.

Finally, there was an expressed desire for NKSD to “shed its inferiority complex” when comparing itself to the Central Kitsap and Bainbridge Island school districts.