Sumner search focuses on three

By Brian Beckley-The Courier-Herald

The Sumner School Board has narrowed its search for a new superintendent to three candidates and hopes to make a final decision on a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Donald Eismann by the end of May.

The three candidates, who are not officially being called “finalists,” include Gilbert Mendoza of the Tacoma School District, Michael Green, superintendent of the Nine Mile Falls School District outside Spokane and Michael Kirby, superintendent of the North Franklin School District in Connell, Wash.

Mendoza has been with Tacoma for more than 12 years and has experience in vocational education, curriculum instruction, student services and grant and resource development.

Before his time with Tacoma, Mendoza worked as a career specialist at Bates Technical College and Rogers High School in Puyallup and is a veteran of the U.S. Army.

He has a bachelor of arts in education/psychology from Gonzaga University, a master of education from the University of Washington and a doctor of education from Seattle University.

Green has headed the Nine Mile Falls district since July 2001. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in the Riverview School District in Carnation, Wash., and worked as a principal in Lynnwood, Wash. and Mattawa, Wash.

Green earned bachelor's degrees from Central Washington University in business administration and elementary education and a master's in educational administration from Western Washington University. He also received his superintendent certification and did doctoral coursework at Seattle Pacific University.

Kirby has been at the head of the North Franklin district since 2002. Before that, he worked as a program administrator in Pasco and worked as a middle school principal in Lynden and Richland as well as a high school principal and teacher in Lynden.

Board member Toni Froehling said the district received approximately 20 applications, which were narrowed down to six by Monte Bridges of the Puget Sound Educational Services District. On the recommendation of Eismann, the district hired Bridges as a search consultant at a cost of $2,000, well below the amount paid to national firms by other local districts such as Enumclaw.

Froehling said Sumner had seen too many districts “shoot themselves in the foot” by spending a lot of money and getting locked into a high-profile, big-money candidate.

“The more you ramp up and money you spend, the more invested you get in your final candidate being perfect,” he said.

Froehling said though they are pleased with the candidates, if they prove not to be right for Sumner, directors will not hesitate to start the search again.

Froehling said the current direction of the district is a positive one and there is no need to go searching for a “hired gun” to come in and clean up the district.

“All of us wanted to keep the district headed in the direction it's headed,” he said, adding that during Eismann's 22 years at the helm Sumner has gone from being a “red-headed step child” to a more respected and academically-focused district.

“You want to keep a good thing going,” he said.

As part of the interview process, the three candidates were introduced to the public Thursday at a community and parent luncheon interview at the district offices in Sumner. After a prepared opening statement, some community members were given the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates.

Many of the questions dealt with how to make connections within the community, with all three candidates talking about the importance of uniting businesses, churches and civic organizations with the school district to provide a well-rounded educational experience.

“We would be crazy not to align ourselves with them,” Mendoza said in response to a question from East Pierce Fire and Rescue chaplain Art Sphar.

“Only people who trust a school system are going to invest in a school system,” Kirby said about creating relationships.

One of the topics on which the candidates offered different backgrounds and experience was on the topic of English as a second language.

Mendoza, who works in one of the largest and most diverse districts in the state, emphasized his experience dealing with Tacoma's 64 languages and various cultures, talking about the importance of bringing the community into the schools to allow students to see someone who looks like them.

Kirby said because of the location of his district in eastern Washington he has a large percentage of non-English speaking students and parents, but emphasized the issue is usually one of poverty, not a language barrier and said an early emphasis on language acquisition and development was important.

Green, on the other hand, admitted his district is a bedroom community outside Spokane and said it is more “homogenous” in language, but said teaching English as a second language once again shows the importance of making connections within the community.

All three candidates spoke about the importance of early learning for students.

“In my ideal world we would be meeting parents at the hospital,” he said. Green said in his district he has made connections with the pre-schools, making sure the teachers and parents know what is expected of a student when they arrive for kindergarten.

Mendoza spoke of daycare and childcare facilities on campus that focus on teaching kids the sounds and basics of the language as well as teaching young parents how to nurture a culture of learning in their children.

Following the luncheon, attended by more than 35 community members from Bonney Lake and Sumner, the candidates were whisked off for another round of interviews, these with members of the district's transportation department. The three met with the district leadership team earlier in the day.

The board hopes to announce its selection May 30 with a start date of July 1.

Brian Beckley can be reached at

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