Chimacum finds 'perfect match' among superintendent finalists

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 2/25/15

Richard E. Thompson says he's eager to start as Chimacum School District 49's new superintendent.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” Thompson, 51, of Friday Harbor told the Leader Wednesday, …

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Chimacum finds 'perfect match' among superintendent finalists


Richard E. Thompson says he's eager to start as Chimacum School District 49's new superintendent.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” Thompson, 51, of Friday Harbor told the Leader Wednesday, Feb. 25. “I'm elated. I'm just very, very excited to get started.”

The district's school board unanimously chose Thompson late Tuesday evening during an executive (closed-door) session after he and two other finalists each spent a day touring the campus and meeting staff.

“We really felt that Richard, with his operational experience at the superintendent level, was the perfect candidate for Chimacum,” school board chair Kevin Miller said. “I think he would have become a finalist in most districts, but he was perfect for us.”

Rich Stewart, hired as interim superintendent in June 2013 and extended to a second year, is set to leave the district June 30.

The school board interviewed five candidates Wednesday, Feb. 18 before narrowing the pool to three.

Thompson, who has been superintendent of San Juan Island School District 149 since July 2010, was chosen over Warden High School Principal Chris Rust and Deborah L. Holcomb, Highline Public Schools director of student support services.

“It wasn't an obvious decision,” said Miller, adding that the board received and reviewed about 300 comment forms from district staff and community members before making a final decision just after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24.

“We were in executive session for two and a half hours," Miller said. "We really wanted to give all our candidates a full vetting process. They were all well-qualified and well-received by staff and the community.”

Before joining San Juan Island School District, Thompson spent five years with Lynden School District 504, starting as director of student learning before becoming acting superintendent and finally interim superintendent.

For nine years prior to Lynden, Thompson was assistant to the superintendent, high school principal and assistant high school principal at Franklin Pierce School District 402.

Thompson received his Bachelor of Arts in Education degree, Master of Education degree and superintendent certification from Western Washington University.

While Thompson stood out in many areas, Miller said his experience as a superintendent at relatively smaller districts was key, as well as his experience as a high school principal.

“Having superintendent experience is critically important,” Miller said. “The jobs done at a small district are so multi-faceted that you really have to have a 10,000-foot overview of the district.”

Thompson said he was quite impressed during his campus tour Monday, Feb. 23, particularly with the primary school campus, the auditorium, the updated gymnasium and the band program. Though he also acknowledged some of the district's facilities need upgrading. The district's $34.8 million bond proposal to voters was rejected Feb. 10 with 51.5 percent approval, 48.5 percent opposed. Bonds need a 60 percent super majority to pass; a revised bond issue may return this spring.

"It's no news: the facilities are going to need work,” he said, referencing the need to pass a bond. “I can see that's clearly a need there.”

Miller said he was impressed with the variety of Thompson's references.

'Wherever he's gone, he's ended up leaving with great references,” Miller said. “His references were well-dispersed and his work at every level seemed well-regarded.”

Miller said he was also impressed by Thompson's past success with grants for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

“It became apparent that his history with STEM grants is an immediate need for our students' education in the future,” Miller said. “That should play into our curriculum adoption efforts.”

Aside from prescribed duties and responsibilities, Miller said Thompson would be tasked with carrying on Stewart's efforts to adopt new curricula, such as the $140,000 Journeys Common Core K-5 reading program.

“We were very fortunate to have Rich Stewart on an interim basis,” Miller said Feb. 19, adding that a new curriculum for math is needed next. “We wanted someone who could do a professional analysis of where we are as a district and move us forward on curriculum adoption and student learning. Rich Stewart has been excellent with that. Now, we want someone who can continue what he's started.”

District officials are now drawing up a contract, which is expected to be negotiated and signed in the coming weeks. As an interim, Stewart receives $76,000 a year with no benefits.

Thompson and his wife now plan to scout homes in the district as they prepare to leave Friday Harbor, where his wife currently works in the San Juan County Auditor's Office.

“As I close out here, the process for learning more about Chimacum will continue,” said Thompson. “It will be fun to begin working with the people there.”