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Lynden's Rick Thompson is new superintendent of San Juan Island public schools

Lynden School District Superintendent Rick Thompson answers a question from the public during an introductory forum, Jan. 28 in the Friday Harbor Middle School Commons. The San Juan Island School Board voted later to enter into negotiations with Thompson, the leading candidate for the superintendency here. - Jane K. Fox
Lynden School District Superintendent Rick Thompson answers a question from the public during an introductory forum, Jan. 28 in the Friday Harbor Middle School Commons. The San Juan Island School Board voted later to enter into negotiations with Thompson, the leading candidate for the superintendency here.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

Lynden School Superintendent Rick Thompson is the new superintendent of the San Juan Island School District.

The school board voted 5-0 Wednesday night to offer Thompson the job, following a public forum in the Friday Harbor High School Commons in which Thompson was introduced to islanders.

Thompson's first day here is July 1, school board Chairman David McCauley said. He will receive a total compensation package of $120,000 — about $108,000 in base salary, and the rest for such benefits as life insurance and cash for unused sick leave. His base pay is the same as Interim Superintendent Walt Wegener's, although the benefits package is more $1,100 more, McCauley said.

Wegener, who has served as interim superintendent this school year, had hoped to be a candidate for the permanent superintendency and said today he's looking for a new job. He does so with letters of recommendation from school board members.

Wegener said "a lot has been accomplished" during his brief tenure here, in which he worked with the district to implement changes forced by budgetary constraints. Wegener will serve out the rest of the school year.

Thompson was an early candidate for the superintendent position here last year, after Michael Soltman announced he would leave for Vashon Island. Thompson was recommended by Soltman and consultant John Fotheringham, but withdrew his application when Lynden pushed to keep him.

McCauley said that when the board learned Thompson was looking for a new job, it was decided to invite him to reapply here. McCauley said there are two ways to recruit a superintendent: Post the opening and invite applications; or a targeted search, in which a preferred candidate is approached and invited to apply.

"If you have a candidate who seems real strong for the job, if you don't get him, someone else is likely to," McCauley said of the disadvantages of the application process. "You could miss a strong candidate."

McCauley said the school board is excited about Thompson joining the district.

"He's a strong candidate. His background is diverse and appropriate. He has classroom teaching experience, he has been principal for a number of years at the middle and high school level, he has experience as a curriculum director and he has superintendent credentials. That's a pretty strong resume."

On Thompson's plate when he takes office: "We will have fairly big budget cuts this year. It hasn't gotten all the way better," McCauley said, adding that the graduation of a "substantial" senior class will mean lower enrollment next year.

In a Jan. 26 story, SanJuanJournal.com reported:

Thompson has served as superintendent at Lynden for the past two years and prior to that was curriculum director there. He has indicated to the Lynden district that he will not be returning as superintendent next year.

“Rick Thompson shone brightly on our radar screen during our 2009 selection process yet was convinced by the Lynden district to stay on as their superintendent for another year,” San Juan School Board Chairman David McCauley said in a press release.

“He is well-known and has been highly recommended by former district administrators, regional ESD staff, and our recruiting firm Northwest Leadership Associates. While it is somewhat unusual to bring in a single candidate prior to initiating a general search, we see this as a continuation of the recruiting effort we began last year and feel we can leverage the continuity with last year’s process to evaluate Rick in light of the pool of candidates likely to be available to us this year.”

Thompson described his superintendency in Lynden as similar to San Juan’s interim superintendent, Walt Wegener. Thompson was Lynden’s director of curriculum and student learning and was elevated to interim superintendent in fall 2008.

“The board is doing a full search and I chose not to become part of that pool,” Thompson said. “I decided that for my career, for some of my professional goals, it was not a good fit for me here.”

The Lynden School District has three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a parent-partnership program that Thompson said is similar to San Juan’s Griffin Bay School.

Wegener was hired on an interim basis last year to succeed Michael Soltman, who left to become superintendent on Vashon Island. At the time, Wegener was student services coordinator in Toppenish.

Since joining San Juan, 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.”

“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,” McCauley said in an interview. “We want to consider him and we hope he will apply. I think Walt’s really been able to do as advertised.”

Wegener said he will apply for the job. But in the meantime, he’s looking elsewhere. “I have to look too,” he said. “As the district looks in a larger pool, I also am looking.”

According to a biography of Thompson issued by the San Juan Island School District last week:

Thompson was raised in Renton, where he attended Renton public schools K-12. He graduated cum laude from Western Washington University with a major in English education and a minor in history and political science. He cites coaches, family members and friends who were educators as his most influential role models.

He taught six years in suburban Federal Way, where he also served as a class adviser, administrative intern, and tennis coach. As a coach, Thompson had a league record of 67-5, including the West Central District Championship.

From 1987-89, Thompson earned his master of education in school administration through Western Washington University. His master’s thesis reviewed the research describing behaviors of effective and ineffective principals.

He began his administrative career serving as a middle-level principal for four years in two small rural districts which gave him experience in K-12 operations, board relations, staff evaluation, and athletic administration.

Thompson served as a school administrator in Tacoma for nine years in the roles of assistant principal, high school principal, and assistant to the superintendent.

In his five years in Lynden, Thompson has been responsible for the implementation of the district science strategic plan, a replacement of the K-12 math curriculum, the district assessment system, teacher and administrator staff development and related leadership for the district instructional programs. He also developed the fifth-grade outdoor education program with teachers.

Before moving to Lynden, Thompson was admitted to the Fuller Theological Seminary where he completed initial coursework discussing the Christian world view and other world cultures.

In 2008, Thompson completed a two-year superintendent credential program in Everett through Western Washington University.

“I was taught very young that education can help people realize their dreams and I still believe that today,” Thompson said. “My entire administrative career has been ... navigating the bureaucracy in ways to help kids learn.

“Serving as the superintendent in Lynden has been a great opportunity to get things done while given the multiple dynamics which naturally take place in a time of transition.”

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