New superintendent of schools Tammy Campbell has been getting a crash course in Federal Way’s history, community goals and its multicultural makeup.
She has reached out to many different segments of the community through meetings and events and tried to be inclusive in her search for input and open communication.
In the wake of the departure of the previous superintendent and board president, district residents are hopeful, if still a little reserved, after a year of wondering about their children’s future.
But so far, Campbell’s honesty and disarming style has won over many doubters and feedback has been extremely positive. Residents comment on her academic knowledge, people skills and commitment to excellence in education. So far, she is building up a lot of political capital she may need for the coming year.
School starts in a few weeks and will be the focus of several thousand students, parents, teachers and administrators.
Parallel to the start of school and the Campbell era, is the election of school board members. Under the Carver model for Policy Governance used in Federal Way, the board concentrates on policy and the superintendent assumes more direct responsibility for running the district.
The relationship between board and superintendent relies on trust, team work and recognition of each other’s roles. If roles become confused, then the relationship may become strained. The current board hired Campbell and the relationship is building. But, the board that convenes in January could be different.
Current board chair Geoffery McAnalloy worked with prior board chair Carol Gregory to ensure a smooth search for Campbell. But Gregory, whose life work has been in education, was appointed to the state Legislature and is running to keep the seat. If she wins, a replacement will be appointed. Both McAnalloy and Gregory are relatively new board members with only two years of service.
Current board vice chair Claire Wilson also has a strong education background and is a program executive director at the Puget Sound Educational Service District. She is being challenged by former board member Angela Griffin. Griffin did not run for re-election two years ago after she moved out of her district and into Wilson’s. Griffin was a valuable board member in bringing community input and cultural awareness.
But both have a political weakness.
They both went on the controversial district-paid trip to Europe. That trip was at least partly responsible for one former board member being defeated in 2013 and hastened the former superintendent’s departure. This will be Wilson’s first time in front of the voters since the trip. But Griffin actually received more criticism from residents at the time, as she was not running for re-election when she went on the trip.
How will the voters evaluate their respective strengths and is the trip to Europe still an issue, or is it forgotten?
Danny Peterson is stepping down after one term and Liz Drake will claim the position without opposition. Drake has had a long career in education and was most recently a principal in the district. She was rumored to be interested in other elected offices, but stayed with a primary interest in education. With her background, she will be able to contribute immediately.
Some concern has been raised about how she will adjust to supervising the superintendent, after having reported to the superintendent. And will she be comfortable with the separation between the policy role of a board member after so many years of hands-on direction?
Board member Hiroshi Eto was appointed to the board several months ago and is running unopposed. His background is in civil engineering. Insiders say he is still in the learning phase, although there has been some concern about his frequent letters to the editor and emails to constituents asking for comments. That approach, while helpful in some ways, is outside the team orientation the board has tried to work toward, and has raised some questions.
McAnalloy and Eto will return and have a stake in Campbell’s success, as would Wilson if re-elected. But with Drake, a replacement for Gregory and if Griffin defeats Wilson, there could be three new board members, who might look at the superintendent and district policy in a different way.
All the candidates have the best interests of the district’s students as their priority and will want Campbell to succeed. But they also have strong personalities and their own ideas about what might constitute the best interests of the students. Merging those different thoughts and ideas will be a challenge for the board chair and Campbell. There is only one competitive race. But try and meet with the board members and get to know them, particularly the new ones.
And if you haven’t met Campbell, do so. I think you’ll like her.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.