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Former South Kitsap superintendent Cheney returns as interim

Beverly Cheney will get her last year back in the South Kitsap School District.

After more than 50 minutes of deliberation in executive session, the district’s board of directors chose Cheney, who will start no later than Aug. 15, in a unanimous vote over Michelle Reid as SKSD’s interim superintendent.

Former Bainbridge superintendent Steve Rowley also was a candidate for the position, but he withdrew from consideration Monday.

School board members Patty Henderson and Chris Lemke cited the challenges the district faced recently, including the death of deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner in April, departure of superintendent Dave LaRose and the retirement of executive assistant Patti Anderson.

“We’re in some very turbulent waters,” Lemke said. “We made the choice of stability and someone who has worked well for us in the past.”

To help smooth those troubled waters the school board approved an 80-hour contract, at $86 per hour, with LaRose, who left in July to become the superintendent in California's Culver City Unified School District, for consulting services. The contract equals $6,880, but school board president Kathryn Simpson said the up reach of the contract expense would be the maximum. However, the $6,880 does not include travel expenses that LaRose would receive for travel between southern California and Port Orchard. Upon request, LaRose will work with the interim superintendent to help with the transition.

South Kitsap Education Association president Judy Arbogast supported the decision to appoint Cheney. Arbogast said she is pleased with the process the school board is using to find LaRose’s successor.

“She knows the heart of the district and the heart of the community,” Arbogast said. “She already has relationships with our staff and community. I’m very supportive.”

Cheney, who served as SKSD’s superintendent from 2001-08, said she will not apply for the full-time position. Simpson said she hopes to have a new superintendent hired by March.

Since retiring from the district, Cheney served as interim superintendent of the Bremerton School District toward the end of the 2008-09 school year. She also is on Olympic College’s Board of Trustees.

“I am interested in the position because even though I have been gone for four years, South Kitsap always has had a special place in my heart,” Cheney said. “It helps me give back.”

Cheney initially was expected to be the district’s superintendent through the 2008-09 school year, but when the school board named LaRose as her successor, she elected to retire a year early. Cheney said she is willing to serve in the interim position until July 1, but said she again would be amenable to stepping down earlier if SKSD officials identify a successor sooner than anticipated.

Simpson said some school board members expressed concerned that she was not invested in the position based on that statement. But Cheney, while adding that she would not be interested in serving as an interim for two or three years, simply said she was trying to provide the district with flexibility.

“I’m here until the job is done,” she said.

One theme Cheney continually hit on during her presentation was collaboration.

“I want to involve as many people as possible who are going to be impacted by the issue,” Cheney said. “I don’t believe I have all of the answers. I tend not to be autocratic, so it takes a little longer.”

Cheney, a University of Washington graduate who earned her doctorate in education in 1997 from Seattle University, also spoke of the importance of being goal-oriented and following those when comes to topics ranging from budget to student achievement.

“This is who we are and this is what we are all about,” she said.

Cheney did not express concern about handling the maintenance-and-operations levy, which is slated to be voted on in February, and establishing a long-term plan for the district as an interim. On the former issue, Cheney said she would be an active proponent for SKSD.

“There’s no need to worry because there’s a strong foundation in the school district,” she said.

When it comes to cultivating a plan for the district, Cheney said she would collaborate with the school board and might defer to them more than usual because of her short-term status. Despite that, Cheney said she will focus on SKSD’s long-range plan.

“If you don’t have goals, you can plan things that sound good now, but are harmful in the long term,” Cheney said.

She also felt her previous experience in the district would be beneficial, but Cheney said one issue could be people remembering “the good” that occurred.

“The awkward part will be trying to live up to expectations that weren’t really there, because people tend to remember the positive things,” she said.

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