WENATCHEE — Wenatchee School District Superintendent Paul Gordon, 51, has immersed himself in all things Wenatchee.
He’s found McGlinn’s, Saddle Rock and enjoyed tubing the Wenatchee River. He’s learned that helicopters are used to dry cherries.
“I had no idea,” he said.
He planted himself — criss cross applesauce — in the middle of a group of kindergartners and first-graders during a summer school field trip to Ohme Gardens and received a pink “I Heart Wenatchee” shirt and egg necklace from students at the summer lunch program a few weeks later. He was thrust in front of the microphone at Parque Padrinos Cherry Festival in Centennial Park and met parents, students and community members.
He called a play during Wenatchee High School Panther football camp.
“I don’t remember what it was. Something with ‘flash’ in the name, I think,” he said.
He now has a Panther hat and has learned about the sports medicine program.
He’s met with the police chief and mayor, business leaders and community members, school administrators and staff — and school board members.
The five-member board selected Gordon back in February to fill the post previously held by Brian Flones, who stepped down this year after 19 years in the job and 32 years in the district.
Gordon previously was superintendent of the Glen Ellyn School District 41 in Illinois.
He started his new job July 1. His first official meeting with those who hired him was July 10.
There, he presented a transition plan with the “Listen. Learn. Lead.” tagline, giving himself six months to gather data before outlining next steps.
Not all things could wait that long, though.
On Tuesday, he will present his budget recommendation for the coming year, along with a proposal for setting the levy.
The Wenatchee World caught up to him last week, between staff and community meetings, to find out how things are shaping up.
Wenatchee World: How are you settling in?
Paul Gordon: My wife (Marianne) and I and the dog (“a true mutt from the pound” named Iggy) got here June 15. Our house wasn’t available until the middle of July, so we were still scrambling to find space to live in and figuring out the lay of the land.
Now we have our home somewhat unpacked. And we are starting to meet the community leaders throughout the valley. That’s been really inspiring.
WW: What are you hearing?
Gordon: A lot of great things about the Valley — amazing opportunities for our school district to continue partnerships and continue that atmosphere of partnership. People see that we are in this together.
WW: What was your first order of business?
Gordon: At the end of last year, the board decided to wait until I got here to set the levy.
The biggest questions really are how are we going to continue to maintain our budget in the short term and long term with all the financial decisions the legislators had made.
Our CFO Larry Mayfield has done an amazing job meeting with me on a regular basis, giving me a tutorial on the state finances and then our work here.
We are making a presentation on the budget and the levy at Tuesday’s meeting. On Aug. 27, we’ll come back with a formal recommendation based off conversations at the meeting.
WW: What are you hearing from the community about the levy and budget?
Gordon: The community leaders we’ve met with want us to be mindful of the taxpayers while making sure we are able to amplify the work that we’re doing in the district.
WW: Are you getting a push to move more quickly?
Gordon: Actually, the exact opposite. Time and again leaders have told us, “Make sure you truly listen, lean in and hear what this community is saying before you take any action.” And that really is woven within our transition plan, to listen and not jump in and take action right away — outside of the items that need to be completed, like the budget and the levy.
WW: How do you connect with community leaders?
Gordon: Communications Director Diana Haglund is reaching out. My schedule is packed. And, one thing we do toward the end of our conversations is ask people, “Who are the two or three other influencers you would recommend to us?”
Eastmont Superintendent Garn Christensen actually gave me that tidbit when he stopped by to introduce himself. It’s been hugely beneficial. Almost each time, someone mentions a name not on our list who would provide a great perspective.
WW: What wakes you up?
Gordon: What keeps me up is our kids. I want to make sure every one of our kids is learning in a safe environment, where they know they belong. That they’re connected. That they have adults during the school day they can talk to and know they are being respected. That we create this culture of “we’re in this together.”
I believe strongly in this idea of belonging and connections and relationships. Relationships are what I believe transforms education. We need to take the time to build those.
Kids must know that they are in a safe learning space, a place they trust and that they are excited to be there.
It’s also important to have a rigorous environment for every kid. But you first have to start with safety for kids to put out their thoughts and ideas. They need to know it’s a safe place for them to be vulnerable, that it’s OK to make errors, to stumble, trip and fall.
Before I go to bed, those are the pieces I think about — making sure we hold the bar high for every one of our students.