New Sequim superintendent a ‘servant leader’

Kelly Shea

Kelly Shea

SEQUIM — The newly hired Sequim School District superintendent describes his management style as “servant leader” — one who believes in giving people what he or she can to achieve their potential.

“Everything I do is based on the relationships I can create with people,” Spokane native Kelly Shea, 47, said Saturday.

That leadership approach, he said, benefits the schoolchildren he considers his top priority.

The human services director for five years at Meads School District in Spokane who has been an educator since 1987 said he accepted the School Board’s offer Friday to hire him as the next Sequim School District superintendent.

He spoke Saturday while driving home from Bellingham after pulling out as a finalist for the Meridian School District superintendent job.

Shea said he was impressed with the Sequim district’s structure of “great community support.”

“Everybody seems like they are committed to serving kids,” he said, and the district is financially “in good shape” even in hard economic times.

“From a school district point of view, I think they are on rock-solid ground to build from.”

He said he made the decision to accept the Sequim job and withdraw as a Meridian finalist shortly after Sequim School Board President Sarah Bedinger called to offer him the Sequim job Friday night.

After the board’s consultants work out a contract with Shea today, the School Board is scheduled to consider approval during a board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in its conference room at the historic Sequim High School building, 503 N. Sequim Ave.

Bedinger said the offer likely would be comparable to current district Superintendent Bill Bentley’s, who is leaving the district after five years to pursue other interests.

Bentley was paid $120,000 a year plus benefits.

The Spokane native said he plans to visit Sequim in April and May to talk to departing superintendent Bentley and School Board members and find a place to live before he starts his new job July 1.

Heaping praises on Shea, the five-director Sequim School Board unanimously voted to hire him after a nearly three-hour closed executive session Friday.

The decision came after four days of touring Shea and three other finalists around district facilities, introducing them to staff and parents, conducting public question-and-answer forums with each candidate and interviewing each of them one last time behind closed doors.

School Board member Bev Horan said that while all the candidates understood budgeting and finances, Shea “talked to kids, he talked to janitors, he talked to everybody, and that was what won me over.”

Board member Virginia O’Neil agreed it was a tough choice with four highly qualified finalists, but she cited Shea’s “passion for students” and his mindset as an educator in convincing her he was the right one for the job.

“He will take us from good to great, and that’s what we asked for,” she said.

Both School Board members John Bridge and Walt Johnson agreed the process was thorough and that the finalists were well-vetted in the selection process.

Bedinger, who choked back tears after a challenging, emotional week, said it was a difficult decision with four high-caliber candidates.

“All of the candidates were amazing in lots of different ways,” Bedinger said before the board unanimously voted to approve making Shea an offer.

She called it “a real tough choice.”

The School Board’s hired recruitment consultants, McPherson & Jacobson, working with Richard Parker, the firm’s representative from Whidbey Island, initially brought the board 24 applicants.

Besides Shea, the finalists the board also considered were:

■   Robert Kuehl, assistant superintendent at Tumwater School District in Tumwater.

■   Mellody Matthes, assistant superintendent at Tukwila School District in Tukwila.

■   Robert Maxwell, executive director of special programs, Bethel School District.

Matthes, who was an unsuccessful finalist for superintendent of the Port Townsend School District this month, and Maxwell remain finalists for the Bellingham Meridian district superintendent’s job.

Shea started his career as a teacher 25 years ago.

He began his professional education career working for 10 years as an elementary teacher in the Spokane School District.

He has also been an elementary school principal for 10 years in the Central Valley and Mead school districts.

Shea graduated from Whitworth University in Spokane, earning a degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in reading, and has superintendent credentials from Washington State University.

With his son, Keegan, a junior at Whitworth, and his daughter, McKenzie, on her way to the University of Connecticut at Bridgeport, Shea said he and his wife, Mary, both felt it would be a good time to consider a professional and personal move away from Spokane, where they were both born and raised.

Shea has long shared a love of sports with his children, he said, having coached their softball, baseball, football and soccer teams.

His wife, who is a teacher in Spokane, will seek an elementary school teaching position in another North Olympic Peninsula school district to avoid any conflict of interest, Shea said.

Asked if he was here to stay in Sequim, Shea said, “I wouldn’t say it would be my final career move just because I have another 15 to 20 years in the business.”

But he said he hopes to stay with the district as long as possible.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for the last 20 years,” he said, adding that his wife has long wanted to live by the ocean and that he loves the Peninsula, having spent summers here with family.

“When Sequim opened, it was just automatic for me.”

Shea said he came from a family of blue-collar workers.

“My parents were high school dropouts,” he said.

“I definitely grew up on one side of the tracks.

“But I had great parents,” he said.

“They loved me, and I was able to do what I wanted to do in life, and that was to be a teacher.”

Shea said he misses teaching, having worked at the central office in Mead.

“The biggest drawback is there is not enough connection with kids,” he said, adding that his new position will allow him to change that.


Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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