Bremerton: A footnote on superintendent appointment

I’ve brought this up before in relation to superintendent searches in South Kitsap. Here it comes again, sparked by the recent appointment of Aaron Leavell as Bremerton School District’s new superintendent.

In 2008, the South Kitsap school board appointed then-assistant Superintendent Dave LaRose to succeed then-outgoing Superintendent Bev Cheney. Both LaRose and Leavell were well known to district constituents and well-liked by most. Leavell, like LaRose, has been the district’s assistant superintendent.

But the SKSD board got some serious blowback for presuming that LaRose’s appointment would be universally welcomed. The board announced its intention to hire LaRose to lead the district and held forums so district residents could comment before making it official. Then-board president Patty Henderson said the board had heard LaRose was applying for the Bremerton superintendent position (vacated by Bette Hyde and eventually filled by Flip Herndon), and SKSD didn’t want to lose LaRose to another district.

The tide of comments at the 2008 SKSD superintendent forums indicated a public slighted by the process. The overwhelming majority praised LaRose but said other candidates should have been considered, even if the intention was to hire from within.

Comments like this from then-former school board member Chris Lemke were common. (Lemke is now on the board again, but was elected after LaRose was appointed.)

“He’s a wonderful man,” Lemke said. “What I disagree with, there are other candidates. Give them the chance to speak, and give people the opportunity to speak about them.”

In contrast, the Bremerton school board was careful not to overtly express its intentions, although several comments by board members hinted at the direction they were heading.

The BSD board held a community forum Aug. 30, inviting city residents to talk about the district’s needs and the search process in general. The overwhelming majority at that meeting clamored for the board to appoint Leavell.

At the next meeting, the BSD board took their suggestion and welcomed Leavell with open arms.

While none of the Bremerton board members mentioned LaRose’s appointment, it seemed to be hovering in the back of their minds.

In comments made before the motion to appoint Leavell, board member Dave Rubio Rubie said he has taken note of “other districts” who have hired from within.

“They key point is they didn’t get feedback from all stakeholders,” Rubio Rubie said. “I really wanted to make sure we were following the process correctly and that we were listening to all sides and all positions.”

To conclude this footnote, I think it’s fair to say that the controversy surrounding LaRose’s appointment didn’t substantially affect his tenure.

Here’s Patty Henderson explaining the SKSD board’s thinking before it formalized appointment of LaRose. He is now in California, replaced this summer by Michelle Reid.

6 thoughts on “Bremerton: A footnote on superintendent appointment

  1. I think part of the problem at South was the passing over of Kurt Wagner, who would have been a hire from deeper within. I don’t know if Mr. Wagner expressed an interest in the position before it was offered to Mr. LaRose, but he had a strong support group and that was really the source of the community’s malcontent.

  2. Walleye – The story from 2008 notes that some people wanted Kurt as superintendent.

    From the story:
    “School board President Patty Henderson said no other internal candidates have expressed an interest in the job. Assistant Superintendent Kurt Wagner’s name has been mentioned, but Wagner has not expressed interest to the board, she said.”

    Which is interesting, because LaRose didn’t initially express an interest in the job either. He was after the superintendent’s job in Bremerton, and the school board didn’t want him to leave the district. They approached him and asked if he was interested in the the job.

    Wagner, for those who did not know him, died of cancer in April 2012.

    Chris Henry, reporter

  3. Chris, It is Dave Rubie not “Rubio”;-)

    Each district needs to decide what is best for their district. The decision for a change in leadership should be based on representative decision making on the part of the elected officials combined with district employee comments and feedback from the community.

    I agree with Mr. Rubie, it appears that SK might have missed a step with stakeholders in their process by either not reaching out to them enough in visible ways or not communicating effectively why they made the selection in the manner that they did.

    The Bremerton School Board may have taken the SK situation into some consideration during their own process and I am sure that they also took into consideration the issues that occurred during the selection process with Mr. Herndon. This was right after some of the highest emotional levels experienced by the community that was caused by the Betty Hyde situation with too much behind the closed door actions occurring by those on the inside. An outside hire was very much needed at that time to improve community confidence in the system.

  4. Actually, if one looks at the actions of the SKSD Board of Directors in appointing Mr. LaRose in 2008, one would note that we had several community meetings seeking community input on the potential to appoint Mr. LaRose before we appointed him:

    Anyone with access to BoardDocs can find that the SKSD Board decided on May 14th, instead of hiring a search firm, to explore the possibility of hiring Mr. LaRose directly. We had meetings on the following dates to receive community input before we made the final decision to appoint Mr. LaRose on June 4, 2008:

    May 21, 2008 Introduction of Mr. LaRose + Public Question & Answers
    May 28, 2008 Second opportunity for public Questoins & Answers
    June 2, 2008 Public Reception Question/Answer opportunity.
    June 4, 2008 Final Interview by Board and vote to Appoint Mr. LaRose.

    Thus, Bremerton and South Kitsap really did the same thing, except, that the SKSD Board of Directors brought forward the idea of direct hire while the Bremerton Board of Directors responded to the idea of direct hire. In both cases, the Boards did what was best for their school districts and that is the goal. Congrats to Mr. Leavell.

    Being human, I did smile a few times in the past few weeks at how easy a ‘pass’ the Bremerton School Board got on their decision to direct hire. Though, to be honest, I think that Walleye’s comment has merit. Some felt that Mr. Wagner was slighted in SKSD at the time. If I have any regret on our decision at the time, it was that it was perceived as hurtful to Mr. Wagner (whom I deeply respected). That wasn’t the intent, of course. But, in retrospect, I understand the perception.

  5. LOL Chris! Got me on the spelling. Thanks for the flashback. Those were some of my first comments on the Sun about education issues and I remember that particular school board meeting very well.

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