Updated to include President Katims’ response to a public commenter.
The Edmonds School District Board of Directors had further discussion at its Tuesday, April 12, business meeting about its search for an interim superintendent, including an announcement by Board President Nancy Katims that the board will hire someone outside the district for the interim role.
Current Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas recently announced that he will soon be leaving the district to accept a position with the Beaverton, Oregon School District. His last day will be June 30.
Since it is likely to take months to find Balderas’ replacement, the board said at its March 27 meeting it would be hiring an interim superintendent.
On Tuesday night, Katims said the board will restrict the interim superintendent search to external candidates, rather than hiring someone from inside the district. While the board’s decision may come as a surprise to many, Katims said the board felt that hiring externally makes the most sense at the moment.
“We know this decision will not make everyone happy,” Katims said. “But part of this thinking is related to potential, unintended consequences if we were to hire an internal candidate.”
Katims went on to say that if an internal candidate is hired, the board would then have to search for another interim employee to fill that position, and so on.
Since the last school board meeting, the board has created a list of potential candidates for the interim superintendent position and will be interviewing two of them later this week. Katims said if neither feels like they are a good fit for the district, the board will continue to look until it finds the right candidate. The interim candidate would be hired to fill the role for no more than one year.
The top criteria the board will be looking for are as follows:
- The ability to keep people calm, foster unity and continue forward with the district’s strategic plan
- Prior experience as a superintendent or extensive knowledge about the Edmonds School District
- Skills on how to increase graduation rates and overall student achievement
- Sufficient people skills to keep current staff intact and the ability to recruit even more assets to the district
Also during the meeting, the board held an extended public comment session to allow citizens more time to voice their concerns. These sessions are normally limited to 30 minutes but on Tuesday night, public comments continued until everyone had spoken to ensure more people could be heard.
Each commenter was given a total of three minutes to speak. The district did not make direct comments on any topic but will send a follow-up response to each speaker within the coming few weeks.
Among the topics:
– One speaker expressed concern about the open speech regarding transgenderism in the school district. The speaker said that by openly speaking about this topic and accepting it as normal, it is on a path “to destroy the children in the district.” The speaker urged the district to stop educating about sexuality in schools and leave such topics to parents, should they decide to teach their children about it. “Do your part to educate, not indoctrinate,” she said.
A letter read from another speaker touched on what she viewed as a conflict of interest between the district and parents specifically regarding the COVID-19 pandemic policies.
“School government has a vested interest in the system as a whole,” she wrote, “while parents have a vested interest in the children.”
The letter went on to accuse State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal of threatening to withhold tax funds from the district based on whether it complies with current health policies. According to the commenter, no one in the state superintendent’s office has the power to withhold any form of district funding.
The letter writer claimed the board of directors is giving up too much power and conceding to those in higher positions, who should not have the ability to make decisions for the district. She urged the board to not be intimidated by other governing bodies.
Another speaker voiced her concern regarding the new Woodway Center for some of the district’s kindergarten students, and how the district is determining which students should be sent there. If schools had received the support and extra staffing they have been asking for all year, the speaker said, children wouldn’t need to attend another school.
“Support the kids where they are,” she said, “before taking them out of the schools they know.”
President Katims gave a response at the end of the meeting regarding why the school places emphasis on supporting transgender children within the district.
“If you look at our strategic plan, one of our most important pieces is that we want all of our students to feel that they belong,” Katims said. “This is one of the most important things. Part of that means that there are students in marginalized groups, who typically or traditionally have not felt that they belong. This includes students of color, LGBTQ students, special ed students, English language learners, immigrants, many students who we feel have been to some extent in their lives, neglected in terms of feeling that they belong to the overall group and that they feel welcome. And that is why we pay special attention to students in those groups. This does not take away from students who typically and traditionally feel like they belong. We want everybody to feel like they belong.”
In other business, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Greg Schwab introduced a new tutoring program the school district is preparing to release. Paper Tutoring will be fully online and accessible to any high school student at any time.
The program will provide assistance to students in over 200 subjects. Support is currently available in English, Spanish, Mandarin and French.
All the student advisors who serve on the school board voiced their excitement for Paper Tutoring, adding they wished it had come sooner so students could have used it during online learning.
“It’s a great idea that Paper Tutoring is offered at all hours,” said student Lia Addisu. “I know a lot of students have other responsibilities and commitments, where they aren’t able to … have any tutoring because they aren’t able to do their homework until late in the night.”
Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen also presented a regular COVID-19 update to the board. Out of the total number of PCR and rapid tests given from March 22 to April 12, only 11 came back with positive results.
While cases continue to decline , Geaslen said that two classrooms had to switch to remote learning for two weeks due to outbreaks. Geaslen reported that the classrooms are now out of quarantine and doing well.
The district will continue to have PCR and rapid tests readily available at all schools, as well as health screeners and containment spaces.
— By Lauren Reichenbach