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Cheney ready to dig into community

"Beverly Cheney, the newly selected superintendent for the South Kitsap School District, is looking forward to returning to the Puget Sound region for more reasons than just career advancement. Like holidays, for example. I grew up in Seattle, so all my family's there, she said from her office in Nevada.The South Kitsap School Board voted June 18 to formally name Cheney as Superintendent Bill Lahmann's successor. Lahmann last month announced he was leaving the school district to become the superintendent of the Olympia School District.Lahmann's last day in South Kitsap will be Friday, June 29, with Cheney taking the reins Monday, July 2.Cheney graduated from Rainier Beach High School in South King County in 1967. She got her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Washington and her doctorate from Seattle University.She began her career in Washington, teaching elementary in the Kent School District and serving as a principal in the Fife School District before taking administrative positions in the Kent School District.Cheney said she sees the chance to come back as a wonderful opportunity. She'll be coming from a district of 56,000 students and a budget of about $4,776 per student to a smaller district of about 11,500 and a budget of about $5,585 per student.At this point, she does not have a definitive idea of changes or improvement she'd like to make the district. Mostly, she said, she's just looking forward to meeting people. You're going to hear this a lot from me, about building relationships, she said. My main course of action will be to get out into the school and community and, again, establish those relationships.While an administrator in the Kent School District, Cheney said, the district was faced with its first levy failure. Cheney was given responsibility for coordinating the district with the community and providing education and outreach. It was rewarding, pulling everyone together, she said. The next Kent School District levy vote passed.She said the way Kent did it was to appeal to voters on a school-by-school basis - a strategy also used by Lahmann and the South Kitsap School District. It seems to be true no matter where you go, most people are happy with their local school. We started rebuilding at the school level, she sadi. At the district level, administrators got out into the community to meet their voters - the people who ultimately pay the taxes. People don't really know who you are and what you do, Cheney said. By building relationships, district personnel were able to establish trust, encourage dialogue and, eventually, foster understanding, she said.But South Kitsap just passed a four-year levy, so the district will be able to focus on other things, at least for a while. Cheney said before she can start directing changes to improve academic achievement, she'll have to do a lot of listening. The big challenge for me is a lot of work has been done and, in order to build on what's there, I have to build trust with the community at large and internally, she said. I'll be listening, finding out the issues and looking at where we are as far as student achievement. I'll work with staff to say, 'This is where we are and this is where we need to go.'She said she had positive experiences as a student in the Seattle Public School system - one that's stayed with her philosophically into adulthood. I was really fortunate throughout my years in Seattle Public Schools. There was always an adult who took a definite interest in me. There was support, she said. The impact we as adults have on the kids we work with is ... a positive force.That said, boosting learning progress is going to lie as much on community standards and expectations as on school district efforts. Student achievement is not just a school responsibility, she said. It's a community responsibility. "

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