It’s been nearly a year since John Boyd began his tenure as the interim superintendent at Evergreen Public Schools, Southwest Washington’s largest school district.
On Tuesday night, Boyd made his case for being hired for the permanent role and shared his vision for the district should it remain under his wing. Though the hiring process isn’t yet concluded, some teachers and stakeholders in the district feel Boyd is likely to be hired without a more widespread search.
“I want to be a cheerleader for this district,” Boyd said to a crowd of a few dozen parents, students and educators at Evergreen’s headquarters in east Vancouver.
After reminding his audience of his own personal journey through the education realm to this point — from paraeducator to principal to superintendent and more — Boyd spent much of the meeting acknowledging the challenges he’s already faced and some of the ways in which the district needs to improve going forward.
As for challenges, Boyd isn’t a stranger to them — in his first few weeks, he saw a dramatic levy failure (42 percent voting to approve) and a huge wave of student and staff absences amid the January-February omicron wave of COVID-19. In the months that followed, Evergreen saw millions cut from the budget due to decreased enrollment.
“Last year was painful for me. I’ll get emotional just thinking about it,” Boyd said. “We had $20 million cuts, we had to cut 110 positions … I just want to acknowledge the pain, the work that you’ve done. Our community felt that and I did too.”
Among those staffing cuts were a handful of positions in the district’s newly created diversity, equity and inclusion department — a move that district officials said was done in standard practice but has nevertheless drawn criticism from teachers and community members about Evergreen’s commitment to equity work.
Boyd said equity work has always framed his career — referencing both his time as a multilingual educator and his work to create the first school equity department on the east side of Washington in his time leading the Quincy School District.
Going forward, Boyd said, he would work to establish affinity groups at each school for students and staff to comfortably discuss race- or ethnicity-related concerns and provide support to underserved communities. Much of the work in establishing these groups and ingraining the equity lens into every level of decision-making, he said, is still a ways down the road.
“We’ve sat down and started to have some conversations about on what it looks like to be able to have equity as part of everything we do,” Boyd said. “That’s the goal, and I know we’re far from that, but it’s going to be everybody’s job.”
Boyd also fielded questions about how he’d tackle serious issues in special education, including staffing shortages and confusion surrounding the “neighborhood schools” instruction model that switched up schedules for some students receiving special education. He chalked up some of the concerns to a pandemic-stunted economy that’s challenged the district’s ability to hire, but he added that the newly ratified contract with the district’s union representing paraeducators could incentivize new potential applicants.
“What people are challenged by is lack of staffing, lack of professional development to be able to execute well in that (neighborhood schools model),” he said. “It’s been a shift that’s stressed some buildings, but we need to stay the course. We need to be able to provide professional development and we need to work our rear ends off to find staff.”
Questions in the hiring process
Some community members in Tuesday’s meeting also questioned whether the hiring process for a full-time superintendent is considering applicants other than Boyd.
Evergreen held a series of “listening sessions” in recent months, where Boyd and the board shared and received thoughts from community members about what they’d like to see from a superintendent and the hiring process. Words like “integrity,” “honesty,” and “experience” were commonly referenced throughout the sessions.
In September, the Evergreen Education Association’s Representative Council — the largest teachers’ union in Evergreen — adopted a motion to “encourage (union) members to attend the Oct. 6 listening sessions to call for a transparent, nationwide search in hiring the next superintendent who has pro-union values and will prioritize equity for students and staff.”
Board President Julie Bocanegra opened Tuesday’s meeting with a callback to Boyd’s appointment as the interim leader in December 2021, saying that he was someone they found to be a potential long-term candidate who had the ability to be more than just a caretaker.
That process, they said, included reaching out to contacts “across Washington and beyond.” As it stands, however, directors said they couldn’t share whether any other candidates are still being considered, nor whether the next steps in evaluating Boyd will include another regional or more widespread national search for candidates.
For perspective, Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Snell and Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone were both hired recently in nationwide searches utilizing Nebraska-based consulting firm McPherson & Jacobson.
Emails sent out to community members following the fall listening sessions praised Boyd for his work and referenced Boyd as a “strong candidate to fill the permanent role,” and that he has “proven to be a leader who possesses (qualities outlined in listening sessions as important).”
Adam Aguilera, a language arts teacher who’s been in Evergreen for 15 years, said Wednesday that he feels the board is already poised to hire Boyd for the full role, and that he doesn’t expect any larger search.
“They’ve pretty much already decided,” Aguilera said. “I don’t have any issue with Boyd, really, but this is another white male just being handed another high-salary job. They’re an equal opportunity district and they’re not even following their own hiring practices for the most important position in the district.”
Bocanegra reiterated Tuesday that despite their confidence in Boyd, no decision has been made as of yet.
The board is set to meet in private session again at 6 p.m. today “to evaluate the qualifications for the superintendent position” and discuss Boyd’s Tuesday presentation and plan next steps, according to District Communications Manager Mike Tokito.
“If the board decides to move ahead with making Superintendent Boyd’s status permanent,” Tokito said in an email, “it would have to be at a board meeting that is open to the public. Executive sessions are not.”