Friday, April 16, 2021
School Superintendent Candidates Introduce Themselves
The youth of the Wood River Valley will be in the hands of the next school superintendent.
Monday, January 11, 2021


One preached the value of equity work to make sure every student has the support they need to be successful. The other preached the value of making mistakes as part of taking risks.

The two finalists for Blaine County School Superintendent had their opportunity to introduce themselves to the community this week virtually. And more than a hundred people tuned in.

Heather Sanchez, executive director of schools of the Bellevue School District in Washington, said she is eyeing only the Blaine County School District.

“It is specifically this community I’m interested in,” said Sanchez, who has three children—one whom would be enrolled in the district, and a husband who is a teacher. “The community is the right size—not too big, not too small. And the community is supportive.”

There are some real pockets of excellence and some real opportunities, she added.

“This district just needs to connect the dots. It really has it in it to go to the next level of excellence.”

Sanchez added that it’s also clear the community has some healing to do in a reference to the turmoil of the past few years between the former superintendent and the community and school board. There’s been a lot of disagreement and a lot of tension in the past, she said. And it must stabilize in order to be better for the students. We need a superintendent who’s going to be deeply collaborative to help that, she added.

Sanchez pointed to a number of professional accomplishments, adding that those accomplishments were made possible with the help of some incredible educators and mentors she’d worked with.

She served, for instance, as principal of a school in Bellevue that had had three principals in the year before she became its principal. And it went on to become the first elementary school to embrace a pilot program, which proved a game changer for the school. Another elementary school where she served as principal was awarded thee Washington Achievement Award for its success in literacy and math.

Sanchez said she would approach a tenure as superintendent here by launching a listening tour creating many small group opportunities to ask what’s working well. That would include listening to students and it would include creating opportunities for staff focus groups and one-on-one conversations, reaching out to teachers who aren’t the first to raise their hands for volunteer committees.

Sanchez said she is a big proponent of equity work, which requires putting systems in plae to ensure tht every child, such as those for whom English is a second language, has an equal chance for success.

“Equity work is about a sense of belonging,” she said. “Equity work has to start with all of our students feeling deeply honored and welcomed and celebrated in their classes. We have to be very mindful of inclusion. We have to take a deep dive into the classroom climate and culture, while maintaining high expectations and rigor.”

Sanchez added that vocational career education is part of a well-rounded education.

“We have to prepare students when they walk out of high school to be highly successful at whatever want to do, and it may be college and it may not be college,” she said.

Ideally, dual credits would be involved so that if the student wanted to move on to community college they could do that, she added.

Sanchez said that of 23 years in public education this past year has been “hands-down the most challenging of my career” because of the pandemic.

The infection rate in King County, Washington, is significantly higher than Blaine County and her school district has followed all the protocols that the Washington State Department of Health has recommended.

Teachers went door to door delivering lap tops and the school district has provided child care and food drops. Currently, the school district is serving many small groups, including athletics and internet cafes, but all of its kindergarteners through second graders will return to in-person learning in a couple weeks.

“At the same time, kids are hurting, adults are hurting,” she said. “This has taken a dramatic toll--how can it not? But we’re doing the best we can. We will require socio-emotional support as we come out the other side of it.”

James Foudy, who has been administrator of McCall-Donnelly School District in McCall since 2003, also said that the Blaine County School District is the perfect size for him—large enough to have plenty of challenges but small enough to know the names of the staff.

The BCSD has a long history of innovating to meet the needs of diverse population, he added. “I know I can add shape to your efforts in ways that brings the community together.”

Foudy and his wife have two grown sons and two daughters in elementary school. “We love the arts, we love Idaho and we love everything about this great state,” he added.

Foudy, like Sanchez, said that everything he’s accomplished has been part of a team effort.

Those accomplishments include opening a full-day kindergarten program for at-risk students. He also led an effort to move the district’s alternative school out of trailers into a permanent facility with no additional tax dollars. Today it is a point of pride in the community and has a score of volunteers thanks to Rotary Club and others, he said.

The school district annually performs in the top 10 percent among schools in Idaho.

Foudy said he tries to cultivate a culture of respect, in which all voices are heard and valued and healthy  discourse is a regular part of the experience. It’s accepted that people make mistakes but can move forward.

“When one succeeds, we all succeed. When one fails, we come together in support,” he said. “The biggest challenge is that it takes thousands of moments to get to that point and one moment to fracture it.”

Foudy noted that the act of learning is the act of doing something we couldn’t do before—and it includes an element of risk.

“Every staff member is learning, in addition to the students--it’s likely we will make mistakes. When adults model this in healthy ways, it makes it easier for the students to take risks. Imagine an entire community in which everyone is learning. This is the vision I have.”

When there is an achievement gap, you need to understand what the gap is, Foudy said. The moment you can define the challenge, you’re in a position to define the solution. Once you define the solution you get the right people in the room and direct resources.

When you identify a student who needs support, it is so critical that you never end up tracking the student long-term. Never, never, never track, he said. Never say this student not able to participate at the typical level so we’re going to remove that student.

“Unintentional bias is a primary driver of inequity. If I’m thinking of lowering the bar for a student, I’d better know why.”

When the pandemic hit, the school district surveyed parents, patrons, health care providers and behavioral specialists.

“We heard: Whatever you wind up doing, make sure it’s consistent because consistency matters to students,” Foudy said.

The school district resorted to a hybrid model with field study for some of the students on the days they’re not physically in school.

The team looked at students who were struggling under the pandemic system, including advanced placement students, disabled students and economically disadvantaged students, and found ways to provide more in-person schooling for them.

And it enhanced the HVAC system to improve air quality. To date they have no evidence of transmission in schools.

“We offered an online option and found that more than more and more families who chose to go online wanted to come back into building because they felt it was safe.”

Extracurricular activities are the reason some students come to school, he added. “We believe by putting resources into extracurricular activities we don’t need so many resources for behavioral management.”

Foudy said the fastest way to restore trust and move forward in the Blaine County School District is to have a vision of where you want to go. That would spur community and volunteer support.

It would be incumbent on him to suspend judgment, he added, presuming positive intent from every single person he meets meet at the grocery store and the post office.

“The last thing we want is solutions in search of problems. It diverts your attention from what’s needed,” he added

Foudy called himself a deep thinker, a deep listener and a problem solver.

“At the end of the week, I have more energy started with. I’m curious and I’m passionate. I’ve been a part of a team for several years in a row that consistently gets results. We do it out of curiosity, out of love, not pressure,” he said.

“Why education? It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that’s given me more energy than I started with.”


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