SEQUIM — At the first Sequim School Board meeting he has attended since becoming interim superintendent, Rob Clark told the board he will provide leadership.
“This (position) is one that hasn’t had enough leadership,” Clark told the board and the audience July 10. “This (position) needs to step up and really lead and make the decisions that need to be made.
“This board has taken way too many hits, and I need to fix that,” continued the former Milton-Freewater, Ore., superintendent who replaced Superintendent Gary Neal. Neal left for another job.
Clark was responding to a series of comments made by several board members after a Washington Schools Risk Management Pool presentation about how difficult and unforgiving the experience of being on a School Board can be.
The presentation was about how the pool can help protect the board, superintendent and district from legal action and what each party is actually responsible for in terms of potential liability.
“It’s a relief to know (the board) is actually doing this right,” said board Vice President Brandino Gibson.
Board member Robin Henrikson became emotional talking about how appreciative she was for the risk pool’s support and clarification in the face of the pressure and backlash board members face as part of their duties.
In recent months, the board has frequently faced scathing public comments about a variety of issues, including how the district is responding to the fallout of the federal lawsuit by former teacher August St. George in 2018 that was settled in March for $850,000.
Board President Brian Kuh said that the board plans to change its public comment policy to disallow any comments having to do with district staff, whether the comment is positive or negative.
Deborah Callahan, the executive director of the risk management pool who was there to make the evening’s presentation, indicated that this was a fairly standard policy in many of the districts her company works with.
Comments critical of the district as a whole, such as actions taken, policies or decisions still will be allowed.
With so many special board meeting sessions in recent months, Kuh expressed almost a sense of relief at having a regular School Board meeting when he opened Monday’s meeting.
As part of the meeting, Clark made a brief statement to those in the room that they can expect him to be an open, honest and candid superintendent, both with district staff and with the community as a whole.
“We need to move forward, not dwell in the past,” Clark added.
The meeting hosted a presentation from the district’s community outreach coordinator, Hanna McAndie about her duties overseeing the district’s truancy process, which has been getting overhauled after several changes at the state level in how excessive school absences are to be handled.
According to McAndie, the state regulations that mandated the district form a Community Truancy Board (CBT) also meant that the district has had to update its policies and procedures around students missing classes as well. She said that she and the community volunteers she’s working with on the CTB have been making steady progress on the issue.
One of the biggest things that can be done to help, McAndie told the School Board, is for members of the community to volunteer to help or join the CTB.
Conor Dowley is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].