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Cheney feeling 'more like home' in return to South Kitsap

She has been away for four years, but interim South Kitsap School District superintendent Beverly Cheney said it feels familiar.

“It’s really good to be back,” she said. “Each day seems more and more like home.”

Cheney, 63, came out of retirement Aug. 15 to assume the role, which has been vacant since Dave LaRose left to become superintendent of California’s Culver City Unified School District last month.

This is Cheney’s second stint in SKSD. In 2001, the Seattle native was hired as superintendent from the Washoe County School District in Nevada. It was the first time Cheney had served as a superintendent.

For Cheney, the tenants will be similar to those as her last tenure in the district, which ended when she retired in 2008. Her objective was to engage more community involvement with SKSD and she set out to do that by soliciting opinions from local families through evaluations on her on the district website to meeting with them on the Southworth ferry.

When LaRose succeeded her, he built on the “Whole Child” concept, which aims to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged.

“You can have the best textbooks,” LaRose said in 2010, “but if you’re in an environment where children don’t feel cared for or loved, it doesn’t matter.”

During Cheney’s last two years as superintendent, LaRose was an assistant superintendent. She said they shared a similar values-based philosophy.

“For me it’s trying to make sure the belief system and values are maintained,” Cheney said. “It’s so strong here from a belief system and values.”

She said she is more focused developing initiatives already in place than creating new ones.

“It’s building upon everything that is in place,” Cheney said.

“I’m only as good as the people around me. We’ve got some incredibly talented and skilled people in this district. Everyone is really focused on student achievement.”

She said her biggest challenge will be learning new rules and regulations. Cheney noted that the Washington Assessment of Student Learning was the standardized test for K-12 education when she retired. In 2010, it was replaced with Measurements of Student Progress and the High School Proficiency Exam.

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, LaRose’s departure and the retirement of executive assistant Patti Anderson when Cheney was appointed over Port Angeles School District deputy superintendent Michelle Reid on July 30.

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

Cheney hopes she can be a calming presence within the school district.

“In this time of transition, I hope the anxiety level can come down for a bit because people know me,” she said.

Her official first day was Aug. 15 — and Cheney was sworn in by the school board that night.

The board also approved her contract, which includes a $128,056 salary, about $9,000 for district and individual professional development plans, $275 per month for transportation and $50 each month to reimburse cellphone usage.

Cheney said she would not take the job for any other district, which means this is her last foray into K-12 education. Since she left SKSD, Cheney served as interim superintendent of the Bremerton School District at the end of the 2008-09 school year and then joined Olympic College’s board of trustees.

“South Kitsap always has had a special place in my heart,” said Cheney, adding that it also benefits her to reacquaint herself with K-12 education from her role with OC. “It helps me give back.”

Once June arrives, or slightly before or afterward, Cheney will leave again. She said that time likely will be dictated by when the new superintendent  — school board president Kathryn Simpson wants to have someone hired in March with a July 1 start date — begins.

She then will return to retirement with her husband, Don, in the South Kitsap community.

“We like our house here in the community,” Cheney said. “We like the pace of life over here.”

 

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