SEQUIM — Kelly Shea, new superintendent, points to a pile of boxes in the corner of his Sequim School District office.
Departing Superintendent Bill Bentley has cleared out, moving to conference room space next door to make way for the new administrator from Spokane.
“Everything I own is right there in that corner,” the affable Shea quipped with a smile.
Shea, who officially takes the school district’s helm Monday, is still in transition.
He has purchased a new Sequim-area home, the sale of which closes next Friday, and plans to return to Spokane on Wednesday to move his personal belongings to his new home.
His wife, Mary, who has been hired as a teacher in the Chimacum School District, will follow him to Sequim in August after their daughter relocates to college at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
Shea, who turns 48 next Thursday, said he will be ready to kick it into high gear July 9 after he’s officially relocated.
But he already knows what comes next.
“The strategy right now is to get to know people and get a realistic sense of where we are at,” he said.
He met with School Board members Wednesday and said Bentley has been gracious in handing him the baton.
“I know that if I need to talk to him, I can call him,” Shea said of the man he succeeds.
Saying Bentley and the board have left the district in “very good” financial shape despite the challenges of state cuts, Shea already is looking forward to selling a routine maintenance and operations levy that will go before school district voters in February.
He believes Sequim’s inherent community spirit will come through once again.
He plans to build relationships with his teachers and staff in the meantime, and get out to meet the public.
The School Board in March unanimously approved a contract for Shea, hiring him over three other finalists from an original field of 24.
The board agreed to pay Shea $130,000 a year to start, and he will receive standard state health insurance.
Shea will not be paid allowances for a car or cellphone.
The three-year contract will have to be renewed every year. His first review is scheduled in December 2013.
At that time, the board will decide whether to renew the contract.
Bentley’s last day
Bentley leaves today after five years on his $120,000-a-year job plus benefits.
He said he was leaving for personal reasons and has been walking around with a wide grin, saying he is taking care of business right up until he walks out the door for a life of travel, learning how to build a timber-frame cabin and practicing his guitar.
In a year, he said, he and his wife, Lorna — a special education-early childhood teacher for the Port Townsend School District — will have a better idea of where they are going.
Bentley, who is leaving 40 years as an educator behind, the past 29 as a superintendent, said he has considered consulting or going to back to teach at the college level.
He said he is most proud of his students’ success.
“We had a number of kids that achieved excellence on a state level and a national level,” Bentley, 62, said proudly, and he credits his staff and the School Board for that.
He also recognizes the district’s voters for passing the last maintenance and operations levy.
“That support that we received from the community was critical,” he said.
“The community support allowed us to avoid an additional $600,000 in cuts to programs, which would have been devastating.”
Using sailing metaphors, he likened school finances these days to navigating a “stormy sea” that requires the captain to know where he is headed, keep calm and use a steady hand.
Facilities improvements on a tight budget is another district achievement, he said.
Improvements ranged from vacating the deteriorating community school building to remodeling the historic Sequim High School building for administrative and classroom space — work in great part done by students learning the building trades — and razing the old bus-maintenance building and moving all vehicle maintenance to a site south of U.S. Highway 101.
“That was solved with existing resources without going out for a bond” issue, he said.
Shea described his management style as “servant leader” — one who believes in giving people what he or she can to achieve their potential.
He has been the human services director for five years at the Mead School District in Spokane and an educator since 1987.
He began his career 25 years ago, working for 10 years as an elementary teacher in the Spokane School District.
He also worked for 10 years as an elementary school principal 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.
Shea said he came from a family of blue-collar workers, the son of a high school dropout who encouraged him to become a teacher.
“I became a teacher because of the teachers I had,” he said.
He acknowledged that financial challenges will continue because of state reductions to education spending that have resulted in teacher paycuts, layoffs and facilities closures.
“That’s a fiscal reality, and the question is how does the local school district deal with that,” he said, adding that it amounts to doing more with less.
His priorities are not much different from those being handed to him by Bentley, but first and foremost is “how we are going to help children succeed in learning.”
Then come the nuts and bolts of a school district’s operations, its facilities, and district finances.
________Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2390 or at [email protected]