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Soltman in running to become superintendent of Vashon Island schools

San Juan Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman is one of two finalists for the position of superintendent of Vashon Island schools. The story is the top story in Wednesday
San Juan Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman is one of two finalists for the position of superintendent of Vashon Island schools. The story is the top story in Wednesday's Journal, available at newsstands tonight.
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BULLETIN: San Juan Schools Superintendent Michael Soltman is the sole finalist for the position of superintendent of the Vashon Island School District, after the other finalist dropped out, according to Leslie Brown, editor of the Vashon Island Beachcomber.

Vashon Island School Board Chairman Bob Hennessey "noted that the other semi-finalists are, technically, still in the picture. But really, it's only Soltman at this point," Brown said.

By Leslie Brown
Special to The Journal

San Juan Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman is one of two finalists for the position of Vashon Island superintendent of schools.

The Vashon Island School Board on Sunday chose Soltman and Arthur Himmler, superintendent of the Steilacoom Historical School District, as finalists from a field of six.

The five-member school board expects to make a decision Thursday night, after both candidates spend entire days on the island, meeting teachers, parents and other community members and having another interview with the board.

Vashon Island School Board Chairman Bob Hennessey said Soltman and Himmler rose to the top because both of them impressed the board and a panel of community advisers with their background in what Hennessey called “instructional leadership” — the academic substance that makes up a district’s curriculum.

“They also both know what it’s like to be in a small community,” he said. “And they both know what it’s like to be in a community where parents have very high expectations of the district.”

Soltman, a former school psychologist with a master’s in education from the University of Washington, has roots on Vashon. He lived here several years ago, when he worked for the Mercer Island School District, and has children on Vashon.

That background on Vashon impressed the board, said board member John “Oz” Osborne.

Himmler, who has a doctorate in education from Washington State University and has lived and worked in Bangkok and Hong Kong, impressed the board with his experience in technology and construction projects, Oz said.

“They’re very different. They come from different experiences. But either one would be a great fit for us,” Oz said.

Soltman left San Juan Island Monday night and was expected to spend a day on Vashon Tuesday, a visit capped by a meeting with the public Tuesday night. He was expected to be back on San Juan Island on Wednesday for a special board meeting.

Himmler will be on Vashon all day today.

“This is a chance for the public to kick the tires, so to speak,” Hennessey said.

In February 2008, Soltman was a finalist for the position of superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell-Woodinville.

Soltman, 55, was hired as San Juan superintendent in 2002, succeeding Steve Enoch, who resigned to become superintendent of the Mead School District near Spokane.

Soltman was formerly associate superintendent of instructional services at Mercer Island.

During his tenure at San Juan, Soltman hired new principals, established the Parent Partnership Program for home-schooled students as well as Griffin Bay alternative school, and pursued business and community partnerships to help the district meet its curriculum and technology needs.

Those partnerships helped raise nearly $700,000 last year to erase a revenue shortfall, but Soltman and the district are again grappling with a projected shortfall for 2009-10.

The district blames the shortfall on declining enrollment, unfunded mandates and a decrease in basic-education funding.

Also during Soltman’s tenure, the district’s offices moved to the former RE/MAX offices on Blair Avenue and sold its cramped quarters on Elsworth Avenue.

The district also entered into an agreement with the Friday Harbor Athletic Association to develop sports fields on 30 acres of land the district owns at the end of Carter Avenue.

When he was a finalist for the Northshore job, San Juan Island School Board member Sally Bryan said of Soltman, “He’s a very forward thinker. He’s struggling to improve the schools here, with the virtual academy and the curriculum council. He has a lot of ideas for moving the schools ahead. I’ve thought all along he’s on his way.

— Leslie Brown is editor of the Vashon Island Beachcomber, a sister newspaper of The Journal.

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