Oak Harbor School board focuses on Gibbon as superintendent

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon is a possible candidate to replace Rick Schulte as the next superintendent.  - Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times
Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon is a possible candidate to replace Rick Schulte as the next superintendent.
— image credit: Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times

Jerry Jenkins didn’t waste time getting to the heart of the matter.

He came to Oak Harbor Monday night to facilitate a workshop for the Oak Harbor School District board, offering his wisdom, guidance and advice on how to proceed in replacing Rick Schulte as the school district’s superintendent.

He started by talking about the merits of Oak Harbor’s stability during Schulte’s 20 years as superintendent, then noted that options are limited to search for a replacement under such a tight timeline.

Schulte begins his new job as the Richland School District superintendent on July 1.

“The wrong person in that chair can bring about challenges that take decades to undo in one or two years,” said Jenkins, superintendent of Northwest Educational Service District No. 189.

“I’m not trying to create paranoia.”

Jenkins advised the school board to take a hard look at Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon as a successor to Schulte, at least as an interim superintendent.

Jenkins said he’s known Gibbon for years and “there’s no doubt in my mind Lance is qualified” to become a superintendent for a school district.

Gibbon, who’s served for six years as Oak Harbor’s assistant superintendent, also is Schulte’s choice as a replacement.

Others in attendance spoke in support of the idea of maintaining stability and supporting Gibbon as Oak Harbor’s next superintendent.

While acknowledging that sentiment yet remaining cautious about making a choice without more public input, the school board outlined a plan Monday night that could lead to a final decision on a replacement by May 28.

The board first wants to hear from the community and wants to hear a presentation by Gibbon to confirm if he’s the right match to lead the school district.

A survey is being placed on the school district website at asking the public what sort of personal characteristics the new superintendent should possess and what type of challenges the new superintendent should be prepared to face in the next three-to-five years.

Community members have an opportunity to give input at a public forum 6 p.m. Monday, May 20 at the school district office, 350 S. Oak Harbor St.

During that forum, Gibbon will deliver his “vision of the district” speech.

On May 28, the school board is slated to meet with Gibbon during an executive session and determine whether he’s the proper fit to succeed Schulte. That could lead to a vote at the public portion of the school board meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

The other option for the school board is to look at bringing in a retired superintendent to be an interim superintendent for a year to allow for a full-scale search.

School board members Christine Cribb and Pete Hunt were the most vocal about some concerns, emphasizing the importance of giving the public ample opportunity to participate in the process.

“This gives the appearance of it being rushed,” Hunt said before the two dozen board members, school administrators and others in attendance.

Jenkins said that facts dictate that time is short.

“You need a superintendent on record July 1,” Jenkins said, noting that additional time will be needed for contract review.

Hunt didn’t dispute Gibbon’s credentials, but said he wants to learn more about his long-term vision of Oak Harbor schools.

Hunt initially suggested putting Gibbon in place as an interim superintendent for a month or two to give the public more time to learn more his vision.

That led to Jenkins’ recommendation that the school board hold a community forum to let the public voice what they want from a superintendent.

That suggestion led to discussion and eventual agreement to add the online survey, a presentation by Gibbon and all other dates and details over the next three weeks.

Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, emphasized how important it is for the process to be open, allowing the public a chance to ask questions to Gibbon. Although he acknowledges Gibbon’s strong candidacy, he said he doesn’t want any steps to be skipped in the process.

The Oak Harbor Education Association invited Gibbon to attend its May 14 executive board meeting and plans to ask its own questions to learn more about the candidate’s ideas.

Gibbon, 44, came to Oak Harbor after serving seven years as a principal in the Anacortes School District. He earned his doctorate in executive leadership from Seattle Pacific University.

Jenkins said he believes the workshop produced a sound plan.

“I think it’s the best option they could have taken,” Jenkins said. “And I like how it massaged  based on the comments and feedback. It wasn’t a square peg that was brought to the process. It was a series of ideas that morphed into something appropriate for Oak Harbor.

“At the regional superintendent level, I’m relieved that the Oak Harbor board is treating this transition with such diligence and realizes the importance of making the right decision.”


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