Mukilteo weighing 4 candidates for schools leader
Times Snohomish County bureau
By the end of the week, the next superintendent to lead the Mukilteo School District's 14,000 students could be named. But first the finalists for the job are touring the schools and meeting with district and community leaders, parents and students in a final round of interviews.
The four finalists for superintendent are Jim Busey, superintendent of the Lake Chelan School District; Marci Larsen, executive director of teaching and learning in the Mukilteo School District; Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District; and Rick Werlin, deputy superintendent of the Chula Vista, Calif., Elementary School District.
The interviews began Monday and will continue through tomorrow, as each candidate has a full day of meetings with six interview teams composed of board members, parents and other district residents, teachers and staff members. Each finalist also is participating in an individual, hourlong meet-the-public session at district offices.
Remaining public sessions are with Larsen from 6 to 7 tonight and with Busey from 6 to 7 tomorrow night at district headquarters, 9401 Sharon Drive.
The School Board could select a superintendent as early as Friday, after the board convenes in an executive session, board President Geoff Short said.
The choice would not be made public until a contract could be negotiated, Short said, and the new superintendent would start July 1.
Fred Poss has served as interim superintendent since Gary Toothaker resigned in November. Toothaker, who led the district for 6-½ years, resigned at the request of the School Board after his relationship with a district employee became public.
Here's more on the superintendent finalists:
At 1,400 students, the Lake Chelan School District is one-tenth the size of the Mukilteo School District. But Lake Chelan Superintendent Busey believes it's not the size of a community but how its members work together that makes a place thrive and grow.
Since joining the district as superintendent in 2000, Busey has worked with teachers and staff members on districtwide changes aimed at improving safety, accountability, communication and curriculum. In Mukilteo, the keys are to build on what is working, Busey said, and make changes that are for the good of all stakeholders.
"I would want to come in and work with the administrative team (and) School Board to look at things they've already established," he said. "They've done a tremendous amount of work making significant changes in moving things forward. You have to get a great feel and understanding for what's happening with the good things and continue to make them better."
This is the first time in his tenure at Lake Chelan that Busey has applied for another superintendent job. The quality of the Mukilteo district and the surrounding communities appeals to him, much as Lake Chelan does.
"If I stay in Chelan, I've got a great place to live and a great, supportive district," Busey said.
Also pledging commitment to the success of the Mukilteo School District is Larsen, who has worked there since 2000 as executive director of teaching and learning.
Larsen oversees a range of programs in the district, including curriculum, staff development, special education and English as a second language. As superintendent, Larsen said, she would ensure that these and other programs continued.
"Having been highly involved in the beginnings of many programs, I'm committed to making sure we follow through on what we started and that we don't go off in another direction," Larsen said. "I will make sure that happens."
As districts across the state brace for potentially deep cuts in education funding, worsened by declining enrollment, the superintendent must be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, Larsen said, while ensuring that integral programs are spared the ax.
"I see a need for us to examine very carefully what we are doing and what is having the greatest impact on student achievement," she said. "We obviously will be cutting back budgets, particularly in education. We need to be very intentional and focused about what we do."
"My priorities would certainly be classroom instruction — where the need is the greatest," he said, especially for students who need extra help to be successful on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.
In the 10 years Schulte has led the 5,700-student Oak Harbor School District, the three things he's proudest of are a districtwide free and reduced-price lunch program launched this school year, a comprehensive technology plan and the first Advanced Placement classes at Oak Harbor High School.
"I'm ready for another challenge," Schulte said, on his interest in the Mukilteo job.
In Oak Harbor, Schulte said, he's perceived as a trustworthy and accessible leader, attributes he would bring to the Mukilteo School District.
The superintendent "needs to be personable, accessible," he said. "You need to reach out and get to know people. I think people here know that I do that. They see that I follow through when promises are made."
As deputy superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District, the largest elementary district in California with 26,000 students, Werlin said he knows the critical role the community plays in the success of a school system.
It takes the input of all stakeholders — from students and staff members to parents and administrators — to make a district prosper even with staggering budget cuts, said Werlin, who has worked in Chula Vista since 1997.
The commitment to student learning is evident in Mukilteo schools, he said, and attracted him to the superintendent job.
"When I look at the vision and value of the Mukilteo School District, I believe my core beliefs are aligned very closely to those areas that Mukilteo has embraced," Werlin said. "It appears to me to be a very student-focused environment. Decisions are really student-based, rather than adults-based."
Goals are achievable, Werlin believes, when districts work with the community to get things done. In Chula Vista, voters approved $96 million in construction bonds, and parents and district residents regularly sit on budget committees.
In Mukilteo, Werlin would "continue to build that team approach and that focus on student achievement," he said. "It takes place in the lunchroom, on the basketball court, in the community and (in) my modeling of instructional leadership."
Though the superintendent candidates are aware that some in the community are still reeling from Toothaker's resignation last fall, they believe trust will be restored with time.
"What has happened, happened in the past, and we need to move forward and build upon trust in the community," Busey said. "When you are doing good things and making good decisions, the trust will happen."
Being visible and open to the community helps in the healing process, Werlin said.
"One of the key elements that I've found successful is how good of a listener you are to people," he said. "I'm not a person who stays in my office. I believe in being part of the support system and with the people you are serving."
District officials say the candidates are highly qualified, and their experience in education impressive.
"I'm happy with the variety, the diversity of their backgrounds — small and large districts, in-house and out of state," board President Short said. "I think it's a good set of choices."
Tina Potterf: 425-745-7809 or firstname.lastname@example.org