School superintendent candidates engage public in community forum

Drs. Chrys Sweeting and Kristine McDuffy, the two remaining finalists to replace the retiring Dr. Nick Brossoit as Superintendent of the Edmonds Public Schools, made their final pitch at a Thursday evening public forum at Mountlake Terrace High School.

Attended by more than 75 parents, students, teachers and interested citizens, the candidates each made a short statement of their qualifications, leadership styles, and attributes that make them a good fit for the position. Each then fielded questions from the audience, which ran the gamut from funding priorities to dealing with student drug use.

Sweeting, currently Assistant Superintendent for Instruction with the Puyallup Schools, opened her remarks by describing her earlier tour of the Edmonds School District. She related how impressed she was with the “print rich” environment at Beverly Elementary and the programs at Alderwood Middle. Holding up a copy of “We Hope Your Rise Up,” the latest book of memoirs detailing the personal struggles of a group of Scriber Lake High School students, Sweeting stated how this work particularly “tugged at her heart” and was an example of how each student is a “precious human being.”

Sweeting went on to describe her vision of each student achieving success through “collaborative partnerships” that lead to graduating with the “necessary skills to pursue career, college and life goals.” Stressing the key importance of building positive relationships as the way to make this happen, she pledged to bring this approach to Edmonds through “engaging all partners.”

Sweeting responded to a question from the audience about possible alternatives to “high stakes testing” to ensure students are meeting educational standards. She stated that while she firmly believes in high standards, it is important to take a long-range approach to make sure that students receive adequate preparation beginning in pre-kindergarten.

Asked how she would embrace the cultural diversity of Edmonds schools, she stressed that curricula need to recognize differences and be culturally responsive. “We have more than 100 languages spoken in Edmonds,” she said, “and we need to ensure that our committees that study and adopt curricula reflect this diversity.”

The final question, “what attracts you to Edmonds?” came via the Internet from a viewer watching on live stream.

“Edmonds’ strategic core values reflect my personal vision,” she responded. “This community and I share the belief that all students should graduate ready to pursue their goals.”

Next up was Dr. Kristine McDuffy, currently Superintendent of the Arlington Schools. She opened by describing her 33 years in public education, which included student teaching at Lynnwood High School and early stints teaching in the Shoreline District. Confessing that the opportunity to teach in a “flagship” district like Edmonds “draws her,” she added that the Edmonds district is doing great work and that she would love to have the chance to be part of that.

McDuffy concluded her opening remarks by enumerating the four points that guide her approach to this position:

“Number one is that it’s all about student learning. It’s why we’re here. Number two is providing a safe and caring environment. This is non-negotiable. Number three is stewardship, how we care for our community and more importantly, how we care for our most valuable resource, our children. Lastly is a commitment to continuous improvement, which means an organized way of looking at what we do and how we can do it better.”

The first audience question came from two Alderwood Middle students who wanted to know how she would address drug use in schools.

“While part of the solution is working with the community to identify resources we can bring to bear in the schools, for the long-term we need to educate students to help them make good choices,” she responded. “We also need to engage with our students to help identify where these problems are occurring.”

In response to a sixth-grade teacher’s inquiry for more detail on her continuous improvement approach, McDuffy enumerated specific activities that would include goal-setting in the fall, identifying challenges and barriers at mid-year, and ending with a springtime year-end wrap up.

Other questions touched on plans for community engagement, how to retain music and other programs in times of budget austerity, how to ensure that programs and curricula are responsive to all cultural groups, and how she would deal with bullying.

The final question, once again from the live stream, was “What attracts you to Edmonds?”

“In three words, it’s the people, the people, the people,” she responded. “This is a great community and a great school district. And I would love to be part of moving it from great to exceptional.”

School Board member Susan Philips closed the meeting by thanking the candidates and announcing that the board would go into immediate executive session, with plans to announce the new superintendent on Friday.

The forum was live streamed on the student-run HBN-TV at Mountlake Terrace High School, and is viewable here:

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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