WENATCHEE — Shawn Woodward spent his first two months as superintendent of Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille School District seven years ago talking to people.
He had conversations, many of them one-on-one, with about 400 community members and at least that many teachers and staff.
He wanted to learn about the schools, build trust and relationships and get direction about what needed to be done there.
During the meetings, he asked three questions: What are you proud of? What needs immediate attention? What are the hopes, dream and aspirations for the future of the school district?
“I learned an awful lot and I tell you, that is one of the best ways to build trust in the community,” he said.
He would do the same thing if chosen as superintendent of the Wenatchee School District, he said Wednesday during the public forum portion of his full day of interviews.
Woodward is the second of three candidates for the Wenatchee superintendent job to visit the district. Michael Musick, the interim superintendent of Oregon’s Lake Oswego School District interviewed Tuesday. Paul Gordon, superintendent of the Glen Ellyn School District 41 in Illinois, is scheduled Thursday.
Woodward said he sat down with Pend Oreille district teachers and administrators to create a vision and take action to accomplish high levels of learning. That action included using proven research practices to increase student achievement.
The key, he said, was creating a coalition of teachers and staff and maintaining trust in the community. All of that happened, he said, while making massive budget cuts during the first four years.
Woodward said his approach and leadership strategies would also apply to Wenatchee.
Here are other points he touched on:
Philosophy: “Listen, learn and do,” he said. “We need to serve kids and families very well. And, as superintendent, you need to reach out to kids and families who are not choosing your district,” he said, including those in charter schools and private schools. “It is incumbent on the superintendent to be sure that your school district is accurately reflecting the needs of the community. If students are choosing elsewhere, you need to find out why.”
Some of the changes Pend Oreille made included adding a homeschool program and an experiential learning program.
Wenatchee attraction: He grew up in Bremerton and took the ski bus to Stevens Pass to ski. He and his family wanted to live in the mountains, which is how he ended up in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Commitment to children: “One of my biggest drivers is to be persistently relentless in ensuring high levels of learning for all students,” he said. Pend Oreille schools are on the National Advanced Placement Honor Roll after increasing the number of students enrolled and passing AP courses.
Research-based solutions: “We are committed to doing those things that we know work. There is a gap between what we know works and what we do. Good practice trumps poverty every time,” he said.
Culture of excellence: “It can’t be the superintendent who comes in and says, ‘This is what we are going to do,’” Woodward said. “I would get a guiding coalition of teacher leaders in every building, study best practice research and collaboratively come up with our vision for instructional and learning excellence. … People need buy-in, involvement and ownership. When that happens, magic happens.”
Leadership: “There needs to be support to get to the vision and there needs to be accountability. Some people think accountability is scary. The only way to actually achieve great things is to develop it collaboratively and have support and accountability,” he said.
Innovation: “It would be innovative if, in every place where kids are learning, excellent practice was happening 100 percent of the time,” Woodward said. “If that was happening across the U.S. right now, there would not be achievement gaps. It would be innovative if we supported the things we know work.”
Management style: “I am highly collaborative,” he said. “Very complex problems can be solved through collaboration.” He also makes decisions when necessary, is a visionary and a dreamer. He believes in providing autonomy — as long as the basic principles are being followed.
Differing points of view: “I’m comfortable with dissent and differing viewpoints,” he said. “But once a decision is made, there needs to be one leadership voice.”
Critics: “The community needs to understand why decisions are made,” he said. If the district makes a mistake, they need to “own it,” he added. “My mantra is to tell the truth, but give hope for the future. Make a better plan and go after it.”