Superintendent finalists promise engagement

Residents meet potential School District leaders

Mt. Adams Superintendent Henry Strom is introduced to community members by Rick Pilgrim of Educational Service District 105.

Photo by Jennie McGhan
Mt. Adams Superintendent Henry Strom is introduced to community members by Rick Pilgrim of Educational Service District 105.




Shannon Criss

— The three finalists for School District superintendent promised during a meet-and-greet last night that they would be visible and engaged in the community.

The finalists include superintendents Henry Strom of Mount Adams School District, Kurt Hilyard of Union Gap and Shannon Criss of Winlock School District.

“I am committed to being visible and believe it’s feasible with a 32-minute commute,” Strom said, noting that if he’s hired, he will continue to live in Wapato.

Hilyard, who lives in the Union Gap area, however, said he would move to Grandview if hired.

He also said he would want to learn more about Grandview and the schools before making any changes.

“I feel it is important to learn and familiarize myself with the district first,” Hilyard said.

Criss, too, said she would be relocating if hired.

“I will leave a piece of me there (in Winlock) when I go,” Criss said, noting her current district had “a lot of trust issues” when she started there.

“In five years I believe I have rebuilt trust in the community,” she said.

Criss, who was born in Ephrata, said she’s interested in the Grandview job, in part, to be closer to her first grandchild.

Port of Grandview Commissioner Ron Grow asked Strom about graduation rates at White Swan High School.

Graduation rates have increased from the mid-40 percent range to 87.6 percent, Strom said, adding more than 60 percent of this year’s graduating class has been accepted to colleges and technical training schools.

To increase the graduation rate, the district adopted the Edge program, he said.

“It’s about mentoring students,” Strom said. “Students began to care about school.”

He said he believes in engaging the community in schools.

Strom said Mount Adams’ “A Day in the Classroom” program gives residents a chance to visit schools and see what is happening.

He wants to implement a similar program in Grandview, if chosen.

Resident and teacher Alicia Garcia questioned Hilyard about students who don’t speak English. The Union Gap superintendent noted his schools’ “demographics are similar,” he said.

“I feel it’s very important to engage parents,” Hilyard said.

The School District hosts numerous events for parents, including Zumba nights to help them learn and develop trust.

“When I first started, the school was a disaster,” Hilyard said.

Grow asked him, too, how he would improve graduation rates.

“I would want to look at what Sunnyside is doing,” Hilyard said.

“Students drop out because they feel no one cares,” Hilyard said. “They don’t feel what they are learning is relevant or they are bored.”

Hilyard said training teachers to recognize adverse childhood experiences should also be a priority.

That was in line with Criss, who said she believes in “the whole child.”

Criss said its important to “being willing and open to ideas.” In her current district, 12 percent of students are still learning the basics of English language.

Indigent students lag in language skills and Criss said it is important to help them develop English, using full sentence structures.

It is also important to make learning meaningful, she said.

Building trust and providing a consistent message that safety is a priority are also important for engaging students, parents and the community, Criss said.

“It’s about determining a common ground and helping people understand,” she said.

School Board members will visit each of the finalists’ current districts in the coming weeks and could select their top candidate by May 18.

The next superintendent will replace Kevin Chase, who starts work July 1 as Educational Service District No. 105’s superintendent.


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