Part 2: Superintendent candidates make case for leading Edmonds School District

Supe candidatesWe continue with summaries of some of the key issues discussed by the semifinalists for Edmonds School District Superintendent during public interviews with the Edmonds School Board at Edmonds-Woodway High School Saturday.

On Saturday, we posted a synopsis of interviews with the first three candidates — Carolyn O’Keeffe, Chrys Sweeting and Matt Handelman — who shared why they would be the best fit to lead the district that serves more than 20,000 students in the communities of Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, unincorporated Snohomish County and Woodway.

Below are summaries of some of the main topics discussed by the remaining three.

District teachers, staff and community members were also present to observe the interviews, and were able to offer feedback through a ratings system that will be shared with the school board.

Based on the interviews and public feedback, the school board now will narrow the candidate field to three. Those finalists will visit the school district on March 28, 29, and 30 — one candidate each day — where they will have the opportunity to tour schools and meet with staff and administrators.

The final step will be a community public forum to meet the three finalists on March 31 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mountlake Terrace High School Theater. Community members will have an opportunity to ask questions and complete feedback forms to share with the school board.

If you are unable to attend the forum, it will be streamed live via on March 31. My Edmonds News will also embed the live stream on the website for our viewers to watch.

Lester "Flip" Herndon is associate superintendent in the Seattle School District.
Lester “Flip” Herndon is associate superintendent in the Seattle School District.

Lester “Flip” Herndon

Herndon currently is associate superintendent of facilities and operations at Seattle Public Schools, a district that has 53,000 students and is growing by 1,000-plus students a year.

Prior to working in Seattle, he served as superintendent for the 5,000-student Bremerton School District, an assistant superintendent in Tacoma, principal at Shoreline’s Meridian Park School and assistant principal at Olympic View Middle School in Mukilteo.

He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Whitman College, a master’s degree in education from Harvard and a doctorate in education from the University of Washington.

“Remarkably, the demographics of Seattle and Edmonds are extremely close,” Herndon noted. “That’s the kind of community I really want to work with, is a nice, diverse community.”

Addressing his leadership style, Herndon said that “I really respect the information and input that I receive from everybody: parents, students, staff, community members, clearly the board. I try to communicate clearly…whatever the district is trying to do. The fact that there is a task force assigned to each directive of the Edmonds School District strategic plan “is invaluable,” Herndon said. “It’s a very wise investment in time and energy to get many different people and stakeholders to take a look at what would be some best practices and strategies.”

Herndon said as a leader he will “be visible, be available to listen and then figure out what additional supports I can do to make everybody successful.”

Regarding equity and opportunity issues, Herndon said it’s important to focus on “those resources that are going to make the biggest difference for our students.” He cited the importance of working with other community organizations and government-based entities to really coordinate services to support families and students.

On the topic of P-3 education, Herndon said he was part of a fact-finding mission to the East Coast with representatives from preschools, Seattle Public Schools and City of Seattle to develop a plan for for formulating a recently-passed city levy aimed at opening additional preschool sites. “There’s plenty of research that shows that high quality preschool investments really pay off for students down the line,” Herndon said.

Deb Clemens is the Superintendent of the Cheney School District, near Spokane.
Debra Clemens is the Superintendent of the Cheney School District, near Spokane.

Debra Clemens

Clemens, who has worked in the 4,500-student Cheney School District since 1997, said that during her career she has acquired experience supervising all aspects of school district operations — from IT to human resources to curriculum and instruction.

“I think that experience across all areas of district operations is an asset coming into a larger school system,” Clemens said.

She received her bachelor of science degree in business education from Viterbo University in LacCross, Wisc, and her master’s and doctorate degrees from Gonzaga University.

Speaking to her leadership qualities, she said: “I’m collaborative and seek input in making decisions that are important and impact the school district. At the same time I think it’s important to be decisive.”

Among the accomplishments Clemens highlighted was the creation of a blended preschool program in Cheney that provides “peer modeling” by having both developmentally delayed and typically developing children in the same classroom. “The success shows that when you have early intervention and students have every opportunity for success, they can exit those programs earlier.”

She also noted the value of teacher leadership, stating that in Cheney “in the last couple of years has really relied on our teacher leaders to really identify the core activities that should be present in every single classroom and the materials needed for them to be successful and the professional development that they need.”

Regarding P-3 education, Clemens said that “I think early intervention is very important, outreach to our early learning providers is important.” The Cheney School District has initiated outreach to parents to help them learn how to work with their preschoolers, “so that when their children come to school they are ready to engage in learning.” Preschool and kindergarten teachers provide training to parents and the district also engages local libraries in that work, she said.

Speaking to equity of opportunity, Clemens said that “the superintendent really sets the tone in the school district and equity is really a wonderful thing to have. As a public school it’s really important that we embrace and serve all children who come to us…no matter what their needs are.”

She said that partnering with other agencies is key to meet the needs of all children, especially given the funding challenges that school districts face.

The Cheney School District has “pockets of extreme poverty” and so provides many services at the school site. For example, the district partners with the local food bank to provide food deliveries to families at the school sites and businesses have “adopted” local students by providing food in a rolling backpack “that lasts them through the weekend,” she said.

Clemens said school districts should strive to have a diverse staff “so children can see themselves in those adults as role models” and ensure that “we engage in activities that celebrate the cultural differences that children bring.”

Kris McDuffy, current superintendent of the Arlington School District.
Kris McDuffy, current superintendent of the Arlington School District.

Kris McDuffy

McDuffy, who has served as superintendent of the 5,300-student Arlington School District since 2008, said she is “very passionate and driven about what I’d call the world’s most important, challenging and rewarding work, and that’s helping every child, every hour, every day achieve their full potential.

She noted that she grew up in Everett and first went to Edmonds Community College then attended Western Washington University, where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s of education degrees, followed by a doctorate from Seattle University.

She was a student teacher at Lynnwood High School “which is now a Costco,” she quipped, to audience laughter. “I told my husband that I think that my classroom is about where the cracker aisle is.”

She taught in the Shoreline School District and then moved to the Lakewood School District, where she served as a principal for nine years and then as superintendent for another five years. She then was hired to develop principal and superintendent education programs at Western Washington University, where she worked for five years before becoming Arlington Public Schools superintendent in 2008.

“I’m a very caring and collaborative leader,” McDuffy said, noting that her motto has always been “leadership with heart.”  I am not a micro manager; I really believe strongly is hiring wonderful people and staying out of their way.”

She cited as a key accomplishment the creation of a director of innovative programs in the Arlington School District, who works with front line staff to help them develop innovative ideas. One result was implementation of middle school program “that is a team-taught, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-infused, project-based learning.

“We are showing just incredible gains already this year,” she said. “The staff are thrilled and the students are out-performing what we thought they would and we’re really excited about that.”

Regarding P-3 education, McDuffy said the Arlington School District has been focused on early learning, including appointing a Director of Early Learning and forming a task force to develop strategic planning on early learning initiatives. The district implemented full-time kindergarten for all students during the last school year and have focused on training its primary teachers. The district has also begun collaborating with the community’s birth-to-preschool care providers, “inviting them into our professional development and sharing resources.”

Addressing the equity of opportunity question, McDuffy said Arlington is working with community partners to address the needs of students in poverty. “We have a similar demographic with [the Edmonds School District for] free and reduced [lunch], she said. “I know that we are always looking for ways to meet these kids’ needs each and every day.” While Arlington is not as ethnically diverse as Edmonds, the district has been committed to ensuring that “all voices are heard from every family and every student.

“We have to examine our practices to make sure we are eliminating any barriers — institutional barriers, social barriers,” she said. “I think it’s just a continuous improvement process.”

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

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