Quilcene weighs in on superintendent selection

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 2/6/18

Although the Quilcene School District’s Jan. 31 community meeting to talk about the search for a new superintendent drew only a dozen people, including parents, district staff and community …

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Quilcene weighs in on superintendent selection


Although the Quilcene School District’s Jan. 31 community meeting to talk about the search for a new superintendent drew only a dozen people, including parents, district staff and community members, those who did attend offered enthusiastic input.

Superintendent Wally Lis’ contract has not been renewed, and the district has hired a search firm to look for his replacement. Lis has not been available for comment on his future plans.

Rich Parker, executive search consultant for McPherson & Jacobson, went into some detail on Jan. 31 about the steps and criteria by which his firm would conduct the search for a new superintendent for Quilcene’s schools. He noted that not only do the candidates’ résumés matter, but so does whether they would “fit” and feel at home within the community.

“Even if we get down to three people being interviewed, and none of them turn out to fit, we’ll install an interim superintendent and redo the search next fall,” Parker said. “As of next fall, I’ll have been doing these searches seven years, and we’ve never failed in a search.”


Parker noted the web of social networks that his firm is bringing to bear in its search, from Twitter, LinkedIn and TopJobs to the respective websites for the Washington Association of School Administrators and American Association of School Administrators.

“Basically, everybody in Washington already knows that there’s this opening here in Quilcene,” said Parker, whose firm is working to spread the word to the rest of the country.

When asked if he or members of his firm travel to candidates’ former school districts to interview parents or school staff in person, Parker admitted they do not. He did point out the value of cold-calling school board members, school administrators and union presidents whom candidates don’t list among their references.

“We have had school districts who hired us make those trips themselves, but they never learned anything more than we learned through phone calls and the internet,” Parker said.

Parker then turned things around by asking questions of the attendees, starting with “Why do you like living in Quilcene?”


Quilcene mother Jolene Elkins praised the community for “coming together” to support its schools, even those residents without children of their own in the district. That sentiment was echoed by fellow mothers Leilani Canterbury, Lauren Reinertsen and Trisha Freiberg in describing Quilcene as “welcoming.”

Although Canterbury’s husband has lived in the area for generations, she was brought up in New England and Florida. Not only was she struck by how “tight-knit” the community already was when she first joined it eight years ago, but she also singled out former Quilcene principal Gary Stebbins and current principal Sean Moss – both of whom were in attendance – for what she saw as their roles in further improving the district.

When Parker asked what they found impressive about the Quilcene schools in particular, Elkins described school staff as being just as supportive as the community, regardless of their positions within the district.

“They respect the chain of command, but they encourage you and make you feel like you’re part of the decisions being made,” Elkins said. “Even at the student level, the older kids mentor the younger ones.”

“They value the community’s input,” Canterbury agreed, citing as an example the hiring process used when Moss replaced Stebbins as principal. “They invited us to meet and greet the applicants, and to engage them in discussions. Not every district takes the time to do that.”


When Parker asked how parents would rate the schools’ performance on student achievement, Elkins cited the experiences of both her son, whose teachers “stuck with him” through his academic struggles and “would not give up” until he became successful, and her daughter, who has excelled throughout her time in Quilcene schools.

“As much as sports matter in the community, if you’re not making the grade, your coach won’t let you play,” Elkins said. “They also accommodate students who want to enroll in Running Start, so that they can stay involved in athletics and the whole high school experience.”

Freiberg moved to Quilcene four years ago thinking that she would home-school her children, but she was similarly won over by the Quilcene schools, in particular by the robotics and athletic teams reaching state-level competitions.

Likewise, Reinertsen noted how easy she found it to enroll her 5-year-old daughter in school-funded guitar lessons taught by the music teacher.

When asked to offer constructive criticisms of the Quilcene School District overall, Canterbury requested more of a focus on the Highly Capable Program, for which her son has been tested, “but nothing has happened yet.”


Canterbury also hopes to see the continuation of facility improvements, citing the signage, parking and gates as among the most improved features. School staff acknowledged that the windows still need to be replaced, and rated the heating and air quality as requiring upgrades.

When Freiberg asked what Quilcene does for training high school students in the trades, Moss noted that the district’s partnerships with West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton and several local businesses give students hands-on experience in job fields and help them develop post-graduation plans.

Stebbins, who rated “emotional intelligence” as an essential trait for a superintendent, admitted that it’s “a challenge and a concern” to recruit and retain staff in an area where a dearth of affordable housing often means extended commutes for district employees.

When Parker concluded by asking what characteristics the new superintendent should possess, attendees agreed that he or she should interact with and be visible to staff and parents alike, with an open-door policy.

“It should be someone who listens, and learns,” Elkins said. “They need to be willing to compromise and have a can-do attitude, even with our limited budget.”

Canterbury expressed the hope that the new superintendent would cherish Quilcene’s “small-town mentality.” Stebbins asserted that a superintendent’s ability to connect with a community can make all the difference for a school district.


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