LaRose highlights hope, happiness

The LaRose family, including wife Mindi and daughters Madison, 14, and Lyndsi, 18, was first attracted to the Pacific Northwest by a search engine. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
The LaRose family, including wife Mindi and daughters Madison, 14, and Lyndsi, 18, was first attracted to the Pacific Northwest by a search engine.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

As a shortstop and right-handed pitcher for Gray-New Gloucester High School, Dave LaRose relished the long road trips along the white-washed roads of Maine.

The different sites helped cultivate a sense of adventure for the man who would become superintendent of the South Kitsap School District.

Similar to many, LaRose, 42, wasn’t sure what profession he wanted to pursue when he arrived at Vermont’s Lyndon State College — where he was later inducted into the school’s hall of fame as a baseball, basketball and soccer player.

After five years as a counselor in Camp Wekeela in Maine, he knew his passion was working with children.

During that time as a counselor, he met people from across the country.

After graduating in a class of 92 students, LaRose wanted to see other places.

He earned his master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., and then moved to Arizona, where he met his wife, Mindi.

They have two daughters — Lyndsi, 18, a freshman at UCLA, and Madison, 14, a freshman at Peninsula High School.

While they were growing up, LaRose worked in several jobs in Arizona, including as a teacher, coach, principal and even started a kindergarten through eighth-grade in the East Valley.

But as the area grew, Mindi said she became concerned about the changes she was seeing in her native state.

“It became where you couldn’t let your kids outside,” she said. “I just thought there had to be more to life.”

Northeast. Dixieland. Southwest.

LaRose had seen plenty of America, and was prepared for change. His family concurred.

It was through word-of-mouth — a fellow counselor who spoke about the merits of the Grand Canyon State — that helped lead LaRose there in 1990.

A couple of decades later, it was technology that guided the family to the Evergreen State.

The question “Where should we live?” was typed into a search engine, and offered a comprehensive test on personal interests.

When the site suggested the family would fit best in Olympia, LaRose began to search for jobs in the region. He found one as principal in 2004 at Orchard Heights Elementary, and the family moved to the Key Peninsula.

Two years later, LaRose went to the district office as assistant superintendent for family and support services, which entails handling complaints and problems. It was a similar role to the one he handled in Higley, Ariz., before the family moved, and was an experience he leaned on after being appointed as superintendent.

When Bev Cheney decided to retire, the School Board bypassed a national search and did not publicly consider other internal candidates. After a few meet-the-candidate forums, LaRose was appointed June 4. Several members of the public expressed their support for LaRose, while others criticized the process.

“I think what I was most uncomfortable with was the uncertainty,” LaRose said. “I want to be a rallier behind a common cause.”

LaRose said he felt like “things kicked off very well,” using words such as “enthusiastic” and “excited” to describe his ascension to superintendent. But he also said he realizes the process of restoring trust in the district isn’t over.

“It’s investing time and making sure the culture is fertile to build relationships,” he said.

There’s no debate that LaRose has inspired his children. Both of his daughters have been involved in student leadership.

“I felt like it was a leader learning from a leader,” said Lyndsi, adding that she would consult her father about ideas on spirit days and other aspects of student leadership. “I learned how to work with people and how to communicate.”

Lyndsi is pursuing a theater, film and television major and hopes to become an actress. Madison loves animals — the family has Olive Oyl, a dog, and Sweet Pea, a cat — and wants to pass on her father’s compassion for others by becoming a veterinarian.

“He really makes me put myself in others’ shoes,” Madison said. “I get inspired by him every day.”

LaRose said he has had to do that many times, and believes developing relationships is one of the most important aspects of his job. One question he received during the forums revolved around his ability to convince South Kitsap voters to pass the levy when he lives outside the district’s boundaries.

“I don’t think it’s your address; I think it’s about your influence,” he said. “It’s about your voice and vision for the future. Your platform isn’t your address.”

During planning sessions for the levy, LaRose urged the board to be specific with details when they present the levy to voters and focus on positives. That’s just his disposition.

After all, his favorite vacation spot is known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

“Anything Disney,” he said. “It’s a place of hope and happiness.”

And a road he hopes to navigate in his new role.

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