Northshore superintendent candidates speak at public forum

Northshore School District officials expect to have chosen a new superintendent by noon on Thursday, June 16, following the final round of screening.

From left: Dr. Linda Quinn

Northshore School District officials expect to have chosen a new superintendent by noon on Thursday, June 16, following the final round of screening.

The three candidates, vying to take over for Larry Francois, spoke in front of about 60 community members at a public forum on Wednesday evening at the district administrative building in Bothell. Forum-goers filled out responses on each of the candidates.

On Wednesday, each of the candidates gave a brief introduction before answering a set of questions submitted from the audience. Candidates discussed their first 30 days, top priorities, bridging the achievement gap, a difficult decision, acceptance of minorities and safety.

Tony Apostle and Ryan Ray of Ray and Associates, the search firm in charge of the selection process, moderated the forum.

Dr. Linda Quinn, currently the superintendent of the Ferndale School District, said she would place a heavy emphasis on early learning as a way to close the achievement gap. The gap is easier to bridge, she said, when concerted efforts are made at the primary level.

Many of Quinn’s answers were based on her experience from her time with the Puyallup School District and the Ferndale district, where an elementary school was closed during her tenure due to budget shortfalls. A lack of funds and persistent declining enrollment opened the door to move sixth graders to the middle school level and combine two elementary schools, a process Quinn said was emotional for many.

“The [Ferndale] district put money into people, not into facilities,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Reid is the superintendent at the South Kitsap School District. Reid, who opened with her passion for mathematics, specifically mentioned the arts and other non-core classes before answering questions.

“Extra-curricular activities are critical to creating an environment for students to practice skills we’re trying to teach them,” Reid said.

Like the other candidates, Reid did her best to step away from the phrase “achievement gap,” saying she didn’t like the “negative connotation.” Instead, she saw the gap as a challenge to build on the strengths of each child.

Reid’s challenge also dealt with declining enrollment and parents who chose to have their student study out of the district. Upon investigation, parents told Reid their decision was because only 46 percent of district graduates — 14 percent below the state average — went on to post-secondary education.

The district shifted mathematics courses so students could complete algebra by eighth grade, and enrollment increases followed for the first time in over a decade.

Dr. Adrian Talley was the only candidate from out of state. Currently the executive director of Student Services at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Talley spent time working with the US Department of Defense, managing military schools and students.

A self-described former Army brat, Talley spoke of preparedness for the coming school year.

“Always, on day one, something happens,” Talley said.

Talley emphasized community engagement, saying he expected parents to be involved in the school system.

Talley redefined the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap,” and hoped to beef up professional development of staff and parents, as well as engaging kids with after school activities both on and off campus.

Talley’s answer to the challenge of minority inclusiveness was decidedly different. As a black man and being from a military family, Talley was rarely not in the minority throughout his childhood and professional career. It’s not about tolerance — Talley said he hated the word — but about acceptance.

Talley had a different answer to the question of safety as well. Talley was an elementary school principal during the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, and at one point received a voice mail telling him, “I’m the sniper, I’m watching your school,” Talley recounted.

Preparedness and practice are the best ways to stay safe, he said.

The NSD board of directors will go into executive session at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, with a non-closed vote to follow.

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