Replacing superintendent Grohe won’t be easy but must be right

It’s spring, and you know what that means?

  • Saturday, May 24, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

It’s spring, and you know what that means?

No, not just baseball season and flowers. It means school superintendents throughout the area are retiring or interviewing for other jobs.

The job of superintendent pays well, has some travel and good benefits. It usually has a nice comfy office and you get to do really important work. But there are also any number of people who will be only too glad to tell you how you could do your job better, and balancing competing viewpoints of what constitutes a good education is never easy. Add in the school board, the Legislature, nosey writers like me or actually trained members of the media who ask awkward questions, and it becomes a difficult job.

Why anyone would want to be a school superintendent is beyond me. I guess ensuring the best possible education for the next generation is a pretty big incentive. One thing I do know: If you have a good superintendent, he/she is worth every penny and then some.

South King County-area school districts are also in the process of changing their superintendents after several years of outstanding leadership.

After 10 years as Kent School District’s superintendent, Barbara Grohe has announced her retirement effective next spring. Auburn is in the final phase of replacing longtime superintendent Linda Cowan. In Federal Way, it won’t be long before Tom Murphy decides enough years have passed and it is time do something else.

Whoever follows Grohe, Cowan and Murphy will be following truly class acts, but they will need to make their own way and face their own challenges.

Mercer Island is down to three finalists for that superintendent job. The Northshore School District filled its position, and Clover Park School District in Pierce County was recently close to making a selection.

Tacoma has selected Art Jarvis to head its district after Charles Milligan’s one-year tenure didn’t work out. Like most districts, Tacoma is so desperate for talent and leadership that after appointing Jarvis, they asked him to consider appointing the runner-up as his deputy. While it is stepping over the line a bit to insert itself in Jarvis’ appointment domain, the school board was clearly thinking that move would give it a superintendent in-waiting when Jarvis retires. However, the runner-up has since accepted a job in Massachusetts.

Tacoma’s situation reminds me that it is important to get the selection right the first time. The board had to pay a significant sum to buy out Milligan’s contract, and it will take quite a while to return to full stability.

Any community’s children are its most important resource. Ensuring their education provides the foundation for each community’s future.

In all cases, the school board has to get it right. We have to look no further than Tacoma to see why.

Bob Roegner is a former director of elections for King County and a former mayor of Auburn. He can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.


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