Two top Tahoma School District administrators retiring

Deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent have a combined nearly 80 years in educaiton, over 40 at Tahoma

Bruce Zahradnik and Nancy Skerritt have a combined nearly 80 years in education between them. That’s time they’ve spent at the head of classrooms, in school leadership and, for the last 20 or so years apiece, in district leadership. Next fall the Tahoma School District leadership will look very different, mainly because Zahradnik, who serves as deputy superintendent, and Skerritt, who serves as assistant superintendent, are both retiring this summer.

Skeritt has spent 42 years in education — half of those years she’s spent at the Tahoma.

“I started as an English teacher,” Skerritt said. “Like a lot of English teachers I loved my content.”

For her, the focus has always been on sharing her love of literature and learning with students.

Skerritt grew up in upstate New York, earned her bachelor’s degree in English and American Studies and completed a master’s degree in teaching at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore before she headed west.

While her family moved to California, Skerritt said it was the beauty of the Pacific Northwest that drew her here. And that made her stay.

“I’ve worked the Highway 18 corridor,” Skerritt joked of her professional career.

She worked for the Snoqualmie Valley and Auburn school districts before coming to Tahoma.

“When I moved out here from the East Coast there weren’t any teaching jobs so I got offered a counseling job at Snoqualmie,” Skerritt said.

After that first year she was offered a teaching position.

During her time at Auburn she helped start the Advanced Placement program there and transitioned to the district office where she started teaching classes for adults.

A watershed moment for Skerritt happened when she attended a conference in 1985, one that she described as a, “thinking about thinking conference.”

“The message was we need to develop critical and creative thinkers,” Skerritt said. “Shifting from knowing information to how to create from information. To be able to create with knowledge.”

She was interested in working for Tahoma as she knew it was where her daughter would go to school and the more she learned about the district the stronger that desire became.

“The beliefs of their district matched my beliefs about teaching and learning,” Skerritt said.

Skerritt was hired in 1990 and since then has overhauled the district’s curriculum.

Her interest in developing curriculum had grown ever since her first job in the classroom at Snoqualmie Valley.

“One of the things that concerned me when I started teaching in Snoqualmie Valley (was) there was no curriculum,” Skerritt said. “I vowed that if I ever got into leadership that teachers would have quality curriculum.”

For Skerritt the vision was to use multiple resources in the classroom, not being tethered to one set of textbooks, and balancing all content areas including the arts.

“The way we’ve supported a more eclectic approach‚ I think that has really become a piece that has defined us,” Skerritt said.

Among her greatest contributions to Tahoma, according to Superintendent Mike Maryanski, is her commitment to and care of students, her advocacy for the arts and continuing programs when other districts were cutting them, and her role in developing the district’s outcome and indicators and incorporation of habits of mind into the curriculum.

“She has been a mentor for me in teaching and learning and a support for me as we have made critical decisions with a lasting impact on our system,” Maryanski wrote in an email interview. “Her retirement leaves a void in our system that will be difficult to fill and one for me that will not be filled by any one person. Fortunately for us, she has supported others in our system to carry on the work she is doing‚“

Skeritt plans to continue working on curriculum development and working with various school districts. She views the transition not so much as retirement, but as shifting her focus.

“I love teaching, I’ve always loved teaching,” Skerritt said. “We have amazing people here. Teachers who really care about kids.”

For Zahradnik, retirement comes after a 37 year career in education and 22 years with Tahoma.

He never planned on a career as an educator — he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Oregon and worked in state hospitals in Washington and Oregon before he realized he wanted to be a teacher.

Zahradnik worked at Western State Hospital counseling and teaching youths with severe emotional challenges. He then moved back to the Salem area, where he grew up, and worked at Oregon State Hospital to start the same kind of program as the one he was involved with at Western. It was during that time that Zahradnik realized he wanted to work in a school setting.

“A part of it was that I wanted to work with a broader range of children,” Zahradnik said. “There’s something about education, where you do get to see and measure the progress children are making and that was really exciting to me…(teaching) has always been so much of a community identity, community feel.”

As a result he earned his teaching certificate at University of Puget Sound, then his masters degree in education at Western Oregon State College.

His first teaching job was for the Department of Defense in Frankfurt, Germany. Zahradnik and his wife, who was also a teacher, lived in the city and taught on a military base for children of military members. After two years abroad, they decided it was time to return to the states.

“We were at a point where we could decide to go anywhere and we loved the Pacific Northwest,” Zahradnik said.

While working for the Tukwila School District — first as a teacher then assistant principal and principal — he met Skeritt, who visited the district to consult with principals.

Zahradnik was living in Maple Valley at the time and during the summer of 1991 ran into Skerritt again at the Maple Valley Days Festival where she told him about an opening for a principal in the Tahoma School District.

Zahradnik was hired as the principal of Tahoma Junior High, which at the time was located at what is now Tahoma Middle School for the 1991-92 school year.

“Professionally it felt like a really good fit for me,” Zahradnik said.

During his time with Tahoma, Zahradnik was also the principal for Glacier Park when it opened as a middle school in 1995, then moved to the district office where he was the director of human resources and also an assistant superintendent. For the past two years he has transitioned out of human resources and took on supervising the transportation department as well as offering administrative support for maintenance and custodial.

“I just feel incredibly fortunate in my career to work in so many types of positions,” Zahradnik said.

He explained that he feels like he knows so many aspects of the district that it seems there isn’t any building or department where he doesn’t know someone.

“I really feel like it’s home,” Zahradnik said of the district. “I know so many great people.”

Zahradnik also spoke of growth when asked about the biggest ways he’s seen the district change. He added that while the district has always been good, he has seen a development of the district’s desire to be cutting edge and innovative.

One of the first orders of business for Zahradnik and his wife once he retires will be to build a cabin on the Washington coast and explore the Olympic Peninsula. Beyond that he sees spending a lot of his time volunteering and supporting educational causes he is passionate about.

Skerritt and Zahradnik helped lead the district through a time of unprecedented growth and the growing pains that have come with it. During their time with the district it has more than doubled in size.

Their influence and contributions both in curriculum and district culture over the last 20 plus years will undoubtedly be felt at the district for years to come.