Sequim School Board directors pick five finalists for open seat

Sequim’s school board is another step closer to filling out its open seat.

Board directors on Jan. 18 narrowed an initial list of eight applicants to five, each of whom are scheduled to be interviewed at the board’s next regular meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7.

Finalists include: Maren Halvorsen, Jill Hay, Kenneth Jennings Jr., Susanne C. Scott and Sharon Schubert.

“I was excited that there were so many candidates that applied,” board president Eric Pickens said.

The school board position was left open when Kristi Schmeck — who attempted to drop out of the election for the at-large district seat soon after she filed for office in May, then received the most votes in both primary and general election campaigns — resigned her seat in November.

In an application for the open position, Halvorsen said, “I have solid administrative experience, work collaboratively, and have experience with staff recruitment and retention. I care deeply about students, schools, and parents, and would like an opportunity to serve the community of Sequim.”

Jennings noted in his application, “I am passionate about the need for education – specifically education that prepares young people to be able to contribute meaningfully to the world. I strongly believe in enrichment in arts, music, and drama. At the same time, today’s world requires core competencies in math and science to be part of the high-tech world.”

Hay noted in her application that she worked in the school district as a teacher on special assignment and coordinator of the Highly Capable program.

“As a teacher of children and adults, I have worked to empower them to be responsible citizens, collaborators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers,” Hay wrote. “I feel that these traits and my experiences in education would be a good foundation for a productive board member who works with others to make informed decisions for the Sequim School District.”

Scott noted that “Education is a passion of mine and I wholeheartedly believe in life-long learning. I frequently take on-line and in-person classes. I believe education can make a significant difference in a person’s life and should be easily accessible. As a member of this community I believe I have a responsibility to participate and have beneficial experiences to share.”

In her application, Schubert wrote, “I value community and service to others. I believe in the school district, the staff, and every student’s potential. I believe I offer a perspective that could be beneficial to our community and the growing mental health needs of our students and district as a whole.”

Timeline settled

A key issue for board directors will be the hiring of a permanent superintendent. The board is working with Hank Harris of Human Capital Enterprises to fill the district’s lead administer role to be filled for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

On Jan, 18, board directors agreed to a timeline for the superintendent search:

• Feb. 10 — preliminary interviews with consultants (held virtually)

• Feb. 11-14 — Board members review candidate documents

• Feb. 15 — Presentation of slate

• Feb. 25 — Board conducts initial interviews

• March 10 — Community stakeholder group interviews finalists

• March 12 — Board members interview finalists

• March 13 — Board meets to identify preferred candidates

• Late March — Target date for announcement

• July 1 — Superintendent assumes responsibilities

The vacancy was posted on several professional websites in Dec. 17, school officials said.

Board directors in mid-December hired Joan Zook, a Sequim resident and former superintendent of school for the Shelton School District, to serve as interim superintendent. Prior to her hire, Jane Pryne was interim superintendent for the previous 13 months, before resigning the position in late 2021.

Preparing for changes

With a spike in COVID-19 numbers across the region, Zook told school board members last week to be prepared for possible changes to how the schools operate.

“We may have to pivot into something, quickly,” she said at the Jan. 18 meeting.

“In-person learning is happening now but … is it something like snow days, making up days later? Is it a return to virtual learning? It’s amazingly complicated. We’re really doing everything we can.

“The next two weeks are going to be challenging for everybody: parents, students, staff, everybody. No one knows how quickly (COVID) will decline.”

She said the absence rate at Sequim Middle School is around 20 percent and at Sequim High about 30 percent. Not all of those absences are necessarily COVID-related, Zook noted.

In a Jan. 18 email to families, school officials said the district has had a surge of information requests at its COVID Central office.

“We are unable to reply to all inquiries and have had to prioritize responses to COVID positive cases only,” the notice said. “When you call or email please leave your student’s name, the school they attend and the date they tested positive.”

Zook said she meets with superintendents of neighboring school districts regularly as school staff seek ways to mitigate COVID issues.

“We we just have to be prepared,” she said.

For more about the Sequim School District, visit sequimschools.org.