San Juan Island School Board praises Wegener's performance, but will recruit permanent superintendent

Walt Wegener ... interim superintendent of San Juan Island public schools. The school board will interview candidates for permanent superintendent; Wegener said he
Walt Wegener ... interim superintendent of San Juan Island public schools. The school board will interview candidates for permanent superintendent; Wegener said he's a candidate.
— image credit: File photo

Walt Wegener could become the San Juan Island School District's Jim Mora.

Hired last summer from Toppenish, where he was student services coordinator earning $106,000 a year, Wegener was brought on as interim superintendent to succeed Vashon Island-bound Michael Soltman. Since then, Wegener has managed the district during the sixth-grade's move from middle school to elementary school, the transfer of management of the Experience Food Project, and voter approval of a tax levy that funds school sports through Island Rec, relieving the cash-strapped school district.

As part of his public outreach, Wegener authors a regular column, contributed to local media, called "Superintendent's Corner."

"I like that his focus and attention and priority is on teaching children," school board member Brent Snow said. Board Chairman David McCauley said Wegener is a "hard-working guy, a bright guy, who's been able to wrap his head around what's going on with the budget." Wegener even found grants "that were not on our radar," McCauley said.

But midway into his first season, or school year, the board is looking to recruit a new superintendent. Wegener said Jan. 14 that he is interested in keeping his current job, but that he is looking for jobs elsewhere just in case. A new superintendent — Wegener or someone else — could be picked by the end of April.

All sides are handling the recruitment delicately and diplomatically; school board members praise his work, and Wegener is participating in meetings in which the school board discusses the process for choosing a new superintendent.

School board members say the superintendent search is not a statement about Wegener's performance.

"Walt is interim superintendent, and we are engaged in a search for a permanent superintendent," Snow said, adding that Wegener was hired on a one-year contract. "He was hired specifically as an interim superintendent, and he's indicated that he's interested in applying for the permanent superintendent position."

McCauley said, "We went through an intensive process, through December and January, gathering feedback from staff and the community and getting Walt's take on his performance. He's done a lot of great things, but we didn't feel so strong that we didn't want to look at other candidates out there. We want to consider him and we hope he will apply. I think Walt's really been able to do as advertised."

In a press release issued Jan. 13, McCauley wrote:

"In 2009, the San Juan Island School District hired Walter Wegener as an Interim Superintendent for the 2009-10 school year. This past week the board began the process of recruiting a Superintendent for the 2010-11 school year and beyond. In a board meeting Monday the 11th, in order to start this process, the board appointed a subcommittee to review past candidates that have applied or come to the attention of the board and may be available next year, to evaluate companies available to help with the recruiting process, and to recommend next steps to the board. This committee is scheduled to make initial recommendations to the board in a special meeting this Friday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. in the district office conference room. It is the intent of the board to involve district staff and the community in the process of selecting our next superintendent and there will be further communications from the board as this effort proceeds."

Wegener said he doesn't see himself as a Jim Mora, the Seahawks coach who was replaced by USC's Pete Carroll after one season. He said the board is just fulfilling its obligation to do a search as his one-year contract nears its end — and that he is as viable a candidate as any.

"They're trying to honor the community situation," Wegener said of the school board. "I think it was Heidi Lopez who said in an open meeting that it's important in this community that everyone get to contribute, that there had been a fairly limited search and what we're interested in is that San Juan get the best superintendent possible. I can swim in that pool and I'll take my best shot when the time comes."

That there would be a superintendent search, Wegener said, "This has never been a secret ... They owe the community a full search."

Meanwhile, Wegener balances serving as superintendent here with ensuring he has a job come next September. "I have to look too," he said. "As the district looks in a larger pool, I also am looking."

Wegener is positive. "It'll work out the way it's supposed to work out." And if he doesn't get to stay at San Juan, "It's been a wonderful growing experience."

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