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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

In Our View: Evergreen schools need stability at the top

The Columbian
Published: April 20, 2024, 6:03am

The Evergreen school district is looking for its fourth superintendent in seven years. Such turmoil at the top highlights the difficulties facing Clark County’s largest school district and public education throughout Washington.

Undoubtedly, being a superintendent can be a thankless job. Schools still are dealing with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic; many districts in Washington, including Evergreen, face severe budget shortages because of declining enrollment and inadequate financial support from state government; many districts, including Evergreen, dealt with contentious teacher strikes in the fall; and some constituents have criticized a focus on inclusion, the content of library materials, efforts to support transgender students and what they say is a lack of classroom safety.

In a statement announcing his retirement, which will take effect June 30, John Boyd did not offer specifics. “This was a difficult decision but after speaking with my family, we have decided this is the right time for me to retire,” he said. “… It has been a privilege to serve the Evergreen community and work alongside a staff that is dedicated to serving and supporting our amazing students.”

That privilege comes with a handsome salary. According to the Washington State Fiscal Information site, Boyd received $343,049 in total compensation in the 2022-23 school year. Despite that compensation, Evergreen has been unable to establish stability in the district offices.

In 2017, John Deeder retired after 11 years as superintendent. He was replaced by John Steach, who unexpectedly resigned in 2019 and received a severance package worth $301,812. Steach was replaced by Mike Merlino, who was fired in 2021 after an internal investigation asserted that he had committed abuses of power and acts of retaliation against employees. Merlino was followed by Boyd, who was appointed interim superintendent in February 2022 and permanent superintendent a year later. Permanent turned out to mean less than 18 months.

Halting the turmoil begins with the school board. Choosing somebody to lead a district that has more than 1,000 employees can be daunting; but finding a superintendent who can provide stability is essential.

Beyond that, however, is a sense that Evergreen is emblematic of a deflection point for all public schools. American education is facing challenges and undergoing changes that will help define this nation’s future.

Throughout the country, that is reflected by declining enrollment in public schools. An increasing number of parents are opting for private education or homeschooling. And several states (not Washington) have adopted vouchers requiring the public to pay for students to attend private schools.

In this state, discord is represented by the Legislature’s passage this year of a Parents Bill of Rights, demanding transparency regarding curriculum and student records. As Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, said: “This initiative seeks to clarify all these rights and inform parents in plain and straightforward terms what they can expect to know about their children while they’re in school.”

Whether or not advocates consider the legislation adequately plain and straightforward will play a role in the future of schools. Public education provides the foundation for a thriving society, and for some 150 years it has played a crucial role in turning the United States into a global power.

Such success, however, depends on sturdy and reliable leadership. Finding this leader will be the school board’s greatest challenge and responsibility.

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