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South Kitsap School District loses ‘good leadership’

Omnipresent.

That might be the best word to describe South Kitsap School District deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner, who succumbed to cancer last Friday. He was 57.

Wagner had an array of administrative duties, which included overseeing the district’s special-education, gifted and career-technical education programs. But he also was active in the community as a Rotarian and volunteered for numerous events, including track and field and Backpacks For Kids.

“Kurt epitomized good leadership,” SKSD board president Kathryn Simpson said. “He went above and beyond in everything he did. When you think of someone who embodies the district, that is Kurt Wagner.”

Wagner also mentored a student through Peer Assistant Learning from East Port Orchard Elementary, where he was principal from 1995-2000 and began his career as a teacher in 1980.

“He was just always about the kids,” EPO principal Kristi Smith said.

Marcus Whitman Junior High principal Brian Carlson regularly saw that when EPO students filtered into his school. By that time, Wagner was an administrator overseeing curriculum and instruction before becoming an assistant superintendent in 2002.

“It was amazing to see,” Carlson said. “Kurt was a kid magnet. People would just fly to him when he walked in.”

Adults seemed to get along with him just as well. Wagner was known to be late to meetings at times because he was engrossed in a conversation.

Troy Tebo, the assistant principal at Orchard Heights Elementary, found that out when he was hired before the school year. Prior to spending last year at the American School of Dubai, Tebo worked at Brownsville Elementary in the Central Kitsap School District. Wagner also spent time in that district as an assistant principal and principal from 1991-95, and the two immediately connected.

“I came to the interview and he spent an hour with me,” Tebo said. “You could just tell he was a really good person. No one was too small for him in the organization.”

That extended to Wagner’s sense of humor. When Carlson once jokingly told him, “I have feelings, too” he received an attachment of The Muppet Show’s Beaker singing “Feelings.”

“He had a very good sense of humor,” Carlson said. “He was quick-witted.”

Wagner also was the recipient of jokes. After he was promoted to deputy superintendent in 2009, then-assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton put a picture of Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show in his office.

The visual that athletic director Ed Santos, who said the South Kitsap Relays will be rebranded the Kurt Wagner Memorial Relays next year, vividly recalls about his friend stems from the mid 1980s at EPO. Santos, who was a physical-education teacher at the time, put together an “Indiana Jones” obstacle course. Wagner set the record, but lost it the following day to another teacher. Not wanting to be outdone, Wagner tried the course again — he even wore sweats to school — and managed to regain the top mark.

SKSD instructional services director Greg Albertson said Wagner’s competitiveness was legendary. A former track teammate of Wagner’s at Central Washington University once shared with Albertson how he would bring intense workouts back to the residence halls in hopes of gaining an upper hand on the competition.

That vigor extended to lifelong learning. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington State. District officials said his ability to cite researchers’ names during presentations was uncanny.

“He and I didn’t always agree, but he was always well positioned and respectful of different points of view,” Simpson said. “He was always backed by well reasoned and sound justifications. You could have a great discussion with him.”

Superintendent Dave LaRose agreed.

“He was about research and passion,” he said. “We were blessed with his brilliance.”

 

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