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Meet your Neu superintendent of Federal Way schools

Robert Neu is the new superintendent of the Federal Way School District. - Courtesy photo
Robert Neu is the new superintendent of the Federal Way School District.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For as long as he can remember, Robert Neu knew that he wanted to work in education.

In the sixth grade, Neu apparently told his mom he wanted to be a teacher and a basketball coach in northern Michigan. However, his experiences as an assistant principal brought Neu to the realization that he wanted to make a larger impact on students. Coming to Federal Way is the next step in his evolution.

"Things that are happening here really hit my philosophies," Neu said.

Superintendent

Superintendent Neu's first plan of action is to listen and learn.

"Federal Way is highly respected as an innovative district," Neu said. "Once I have a solid grasp, then I will be more specific" with what his goals are for the first year, he said.

Neu said he appreciates the way the district integrates programs with education. The district has made an emphasis to address all learning styles, from hands-on career and technical programs to the Federal Way Public Academy, which features more challenging courses.

Neu said much of his work will focus on getting several new programs under way. This includes the Standards Based Learning and Grading as well as the Academic Acceleration programs. Neu was familiar with both programs during his interviews with the district, and is excited about the ideas.

"The genuine commitment to education is excellent," Neu said. "There's genuine excitement about living here."

Neu is aware of some challenges the district faces with high mobility, low-income families and numerous students who are English Language Learners. But when Neu first got the job, he explained those things were actually part of what drew him to Federal Way.

"When I looked and saw the innovation and the programming, that's something I am really interested in," Neu said. "I want to be a part of that...While I fully understand the challenges that diversity can bring about, I also see that as a major strength."

He is working on learning some of the nuances of Washington state education laws. Most education laws are controlled federally, and the rest are similar to Michigan, he said.

"By and large, it's very similar," Neu said. "Unfortunately, it's very similar funding-wise."

One thing that both Michigan and Washington have in common: They both failed to make the list for the Race to the Top funds. Race to the Top is a U.S. Department of Education program designed to reform state and local education. Neu said he is unfamiliar with some of the nuances in why Washington wasn't listed, but said the news is not shocking.

"I am not surprised," he said, adding that one factor could be Washington's "lack of commitment to the charter schools."

Family man

Robert and Kelly Neu are the proud parents of six kids: Cassie, 13; Josie, 12; Emmie, 10); Gracie, 8; Addie, 6; and Wyatt, 4.

His wife always wanted six kids. Gender never mattered to them, and it just worked out that the lone boy was also the youngest. "He is certainly loved (by his sisters)," Neu said of the hierarchy.

"This move is so significant in our family's lives," Neu said. "We have each other, we are a traveling party. It's so neat that the kids have each other."

Although Neu was in Federal Way at the beginning of the month, he returned to Michigan to bring his family out across the country.

The family spent eight days in a "moving vacation," hitting up stops like the Badlands, Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore.

Now the family is focusing in on setting into the community, first up is finding their new home.

Robert and Kelly did some preliminary work earlier this year and now the family is working on finding a place that suits all their needs. In addition to the eight of them, the home must accommodate three horses (soon to be four), a hamster called Rhino (who had his own seat in the Yukon), a dog and a variety of farm animals, including cows, goats, bunnies and chickens. And Kelly wants a garden.

But most importantly the Neus want to settle into their new community.

"Our family is really thrilled to be here," Neu said.

Things you never knew about Neu:

Favorite color: Green

Favorite pizza: Pepperoni and cheese

What's on his iPod: Pink Floyd

Favorite subject in school: History

Favorite movie: "Cool Hand Luke"

Hometown: Plymouth, Mich.

Favorite sports team: Detroit Tigers, but "I am committed to the Seahawks."

Coffee, tea or soda: Coffee

Favorite book: "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink

Alma maters: He graduated from Plymouth Salem High School and Eastern Michigan University.

Favorite athlete: Joe Dumars, whom he describes as "quiet excellence."

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