Staff photos/Heather Spaulding 
                                Left: Kari McVeigh. Right: Fred Woods.

Staff photos/Heather Spaulding Left: Kari McVeigh. Right: Fred Woods.

Creative solution to creating stability in schools

In an effort to create stability and long-term leadership, the San Juan Island School board came up with a plan to invest in its next superintendent.

“The superintendent is a big job,” Kari McVeigh said, interim San Juan Island School District superintendent. Responsibilities include daily operations, creating a budget to be reviewed by the board, overseeing the hiring process and coordinating building maintenance, according to McVeigh, who retired as superintendent in California before moving to Friday Harbor approximately four years ago.

Seeing the San Juan School District in need of a superintendent, McVeigh stepped out of retirement last year to help out. The original agreement between the board and McVeigh was for one year. McVeigh now will stay on through the 2019-2020 school year and mentor the Friday Harbor High school principal Fred Woods. Woods has served as principal for 12 years, and under this proposal, will become superintendent in 2020-2021. The concept has been called a win-win by community members and school staff alike.

“Everyone loves Fred,” McVeigh said. She explained that his open friendly nature has made him popular with students, parents and the community as a whole. Bringing him into the position also instills consistency, she said.

“One of the marks of fabulous districts is stability,” McVeigh said. She added that creating long-term leadership is important as well. Mentoring Woods into the position of superintendent accomplishes stability, she explained.

“He is a wonderful administrator and this is his community,” McVeigh noted.

Woods’ interest in education began in college.

“I blame my professor,” he said with a laugh.

According to Woods, his inspiration was his English professor who loved his writing and encouraged him to write more. That motivation stuck with him and made him realize the influence a teacher has in molding students’ life choices.

“I love being around the students, being where the action is,” he said.

Woods explained that sees the role of a superintendent similarly to McVeigh; a “buck stops here” position responsible for managing staff, handling finances, making decisions with input and assistance from staff, working with the school community and serving as a connecting force between the district and islanders.

“This is a town that thrives on relationships, and they are proud of their school,” Woods said.

According to Woods, he took his time to mull over becoming superintendent. McVeigh originally approached him in November, and he agreed in January. Now that both parties have said yes, the school board is drafting new contracts.

Woods said he is thrilled to work more intensely with McVeigh. The idea of being mentored by her and to learn on the job was part of what appealed to him.

In the six months that McVeigh has served as superintendent, she noted negotiating a raise for the district’s teachers as one of her proudest achievements. Another crowning moment she mentioned was inviting a panel of assorted social workers, from church pastors to court officials and others who work with students at risk to discuss what can and needs to be done to help so that everyone is on the same page.

“Fifty people showed up,” she exclaimed. “That’s huge.”

Working within the community is one of McVeigh’s passions, and as she steps down giving her more free time. She hopes to volunteer in an array of island causes more frequently.

The school does face some challenges, according to McVeigh, the biggest being the budget. To establish equality across Washington, the state has not allowed the district to collect levy funds that San Juan County voters approved. If that continues, there will be a shortfall.

In her January press release, McVeigh encouraged the community to call their representatives to voice concerns regarding school funding.

“Across the state, districts and educators are joining together to ask the legislature to take swift action on fixes that will avert immediate layoffs,” she wrote, describing specific budget gaps such as special education.

The school, she said, could face layoffs if the finances don’t change.

While deferring to McVeigh as far as layoffs and actual numbers, Woods noted the difficulties of creating a budget, and that one has to look at the hard facts of what is affordable and what is not.

McVeigh is hoping for minimal layoffs and commended to every staff member.

“This school is amazing. Amazing people work in all levels, from the top down, to make sure everything is getting done well,” she said, “I’ve never seen anything like it in all the schools I have been at.”

As a result, she feels the good news is that the school can only improve.

Woods echoed those sentiments, saying “It’s a great school and community to be a part of.”