The Federal Way school board just went through one of most difficult experiences any district can endure, the selection of a new superintendent.
It was a particularly challenging task for an inexperienced board such as this one. Only Danny Peterson and Claire Wilson have served more than two years on the board. Carol Gregory, who was just appointed to the state Legislature, and Geoffery McAnalloy have only two years on the board and Hiroshi Eto was appointed 10 months ago.
Despite their inexperience, McAnalloy and Gregory did a very good job in leading the board through a competitive and inclusive process over the past year.
But it was not without controversy.
And the backdrop to this process, the election of school board directors this fall, suggests the board who hired Tammy Campbell as our new superintendent may not be the same board that convenes next January.
The search became necessary when Superintendent Rob Neu left for a similar position in Oklahoma. Sally McLean was acting as deputy superintendent and was the district’s chief financial officer.
At the board’s request, she stepped in as acting superintendent. While not as engaged in the academics of the district, her skills as the chief financial officer are widely admired, as is her cooperative demeanor.
Neu’s last two years were marred by a series of questionable decisions on district programs and international travel. The former president of the school board was plagued by personal legal challenges that resulted in his resignation.
McLean provided a calm and stabilizing influence when it was in dire need. Something the board and public came to appreciate.
With the relatively inexperienced board trying to put the controversies in the past and stability a high priority, many assumed McLean would easily obtain the appointment. That she didn’t is testament to the board’s resolve to get the type of academic leader they felt was needed, and to Campbell’s own performance in the public portion of the process. According to many, Campbell was outstanding throughout the process, and that in no way diminishes McLean’s talent or contributions to the district. Had McLean been awarded the job, we still would have been well served.
McLean stepped up and helped us through a difficult time. She will help us again by leading the efforts to ensure a smooth transition within the district to Campbell’s leadership.
But there will be other distractions for the board. Despite the board’s positive efforts in selecting a new superintendent, they are still inexperienced. Also, Gregory will leave the board to campaign for election to the legislative seat she currently holds by appointment.
Since board positions are by district, Gregory’s replacement will likely be someone with no previous board experience. Additionally, incumbent Peterson will be challenged by recently retired Principal Liz Drake. Four years ago Drake and Peterson campaigned for the same seat. Drake was the front runner and appeared headed for election when Neu appointed her to the principalship. Even though she withdrew from the election, she still almost won. Board watchers again peg her as the likely winner.
Wilson, along with Peterson, has been on the board for four years. Wilson is very likely to run and may be challenged by former board member Angela Griffin. Eto was appointed just a few months ago and will seek election to the seat he currently holds. So far no one has stepped forward to challenge him.
We will have at least one new board member, maybe two and possibly three. If Drake and Griffin were to win, combined with a replacement for Gregory, we could have a new board majority by December, and our new superintendent could be looking at a brand new set of bosses. How will the selection of the new superintendent affect the election? Or will the debates focus on academic issues? Whichever it is, it seems unlikely to be a quiet election season for the school board.
To McLean, thanks for your leadership in our time of need. Please resist the temptation to consider working elsewhere and stay here, Campbell will need you and so do we. Board members, please maintain your focus on our children’s academic needs, and don’t become distracted by any controversy around Campbell’s appointment.
No one said it would be easy to serve the public’s interest.
To Campbell, welcome to Federal Way. It may not be easy, but if you make a positive difference in the future of our children it will be worth it. Good luck.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.