Four candidates tour school, appear at public forum
The search committee was still deliberating among four candidates for Liberty Bell High School (LBHS) principal on Tuesday (Feb. 5), less than 24 hours after a jam-packed day of interviews, tours and focus groups that extended well into Monday evening.
The finalists, Brenda Yahraes, Jack Simonson, Crosby Carpenter and Paul Gutzler, spoke to about 55 people – about evenly split between staff and parents and community members – at a public forum late Monday afternoon.
All four candidates remarked that the high turnout at the forum was proof of the keen interest in education in the Methow Valley. All voiced their commitment to the Methow Valley School District’s focus on developing students who discover their own passions and are prepared to change the world. All the applicants have school-age children.
The applicants were asked to describe their educational background and experience, the personal qualities that make them a good fit for Liberty Bell and the Methow Valley, their vision of a school culture that reflects respect and accountability, and what part of the district’s mission and vision statement resonates with them.
Each candidate was given the questions before the forum and had 15 minutes to speak. There were no questions from the audience, but attendees were asked to provide written feedback for the search committee.
Brenda Yahraes, currently the career and college facilitator with the Linn Benton Lincoln Educational Service District in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, was first. She’s had a variety of jobs in education – teaching high school English with specialty in writing, coaching speech and debate, and helping launch a Montessori school in Montana.
Yahraes described herself as kind, caring and firm, and fair and consistent. “I’m a competent person who gets things done and holds people accountable. I’m honest and don’t mind having hard conversations,” she said.
To create a respectful environment and ensure that everyone has the same understanding of school culture, Yahraes stressed the need to get input from everyone, from students to teachers to bus drivers to custodial staff.
She likes to personalize the identity of a school by turning its initials into a phrase that sums up its essence. She’d turn Liberty Bell High School into “Leadership, Belonging, Hardy, and Safe,” and the Independent Learning Center into “Inclusive, Leading-edge, Can-do Culture.”
“I’m very passionate about learning and am willing to take risks,” said Yahraes.
Jack Simonson is the assistant principal at North Kitsap High School in Poulsbo, Washington. As a teacher for 18 years and as a football, basketball and track coach, Simonson said he’s used to working hard and being with students all the time.
“Teaching is the best job in the world. I don’t know why anyone would give that up,” he said. But a few years ago, Simonson saw that working as an administrator could be an opportunity to be a mentor and to extend the challenges and satisfactions of teaching to others.
As a principal, you don’t make the rules or change policy, said Simonson. “The main job you have is, you manage people’s feelings,” he said. “I will put in the time – and the emotional time. Listening can be an action.”
In his interactions with students and staff, Simonson believes in modeling respect and being consistent. He’s comfortable having “courageous conversations” with everyone involved – students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders, he said.
The Methow is “a special place with an amazing school with amazing kids,” said Simonson. “You guys check a lot of boxes for a young, aspiring principal to make a big difference in a great community.”
Crosby Carpenter commutes to his job as associate principal of Chelan High School from the Methow Valley, where he’s lived for four years.
Carpenter came to education after studying natural resource management and devoting himself to skiing, fishing and mountain biking. He worked for the Teach for America program, which places teachers in under-resourced schools, on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico.
Carpenter followed up his first teaching job with a decade-long career as a building contractor in Seattle before getting a master’s degree in teaching. Carpenter taught business, computer skills, green technology and design at Granite Falls High School, a small rural school in western Washington.
In Chelan, Carpenter also directs career and technical education and leads the Chelan School of Innovation, where learning is based on each student’s interests and incorporates real-world experiences. He helped create the state’s first viticulture education program, where students partner with local vineyards.
Carpenter describes himself as curious, courageous, and empathetic at heart. “I think any visioning process should be rooted in stakeholders and as collaborative as possible,” he said, noting that sometimes he may be “too collaborative” because he believes in talking so openly with all involved.
“Before you make big decisions, you must get to know people in the community and watch, learn and lead collaboratively,” said Carpenter.
Paul Gutzler is assistant principal at Mount Baker Junior/Senior High School, an 800-student school in rural Deming, Washington.
“This has been an amazing day to meet people and learn about the good work you’re doing,” said Gutzler. “It’s inspiring and an honor to be here.”
Gutzler spent the bulk of his teaching career in Homer, Alaska, where he was a special education teacher in a school of about 400 students. In addition to teaching reading and other academic subjects, Gutzler helped students develop job skills.
That experience impressed upon him the importance of including families in the educational process. “When students walk through that door, they’re walking through with their entire family,” he said.
After Alaska, Gutzler joined the faculty at an elementary school in Bellingham that uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. “That was my first experience with IB, where I saw the joy in the classroom when inquiry is the driver,” he said.
At Mount Baker, Gutzler handles everything from disciplinary issues to helping students overcome barriers to education.
Gutzler describes himself as hopeful and optimistic. “You almost have to be, to be in education,” he said. Gutzler said he’s a hard worker who seeks to support everyone, and is calm and consistent.
“You need to trust me, and I need to earn your trust,” he said.
Comprehensive screening process
The district initially received 11 inquiries about the LBHS principal job, and nine candidates completed applications.
“We were very pleased with the strengths of the candidates,” said Anne Andersen, the district’s director of teaching and learning and coordinator of the district’s International Baccalaureate programs who is a co-leader of the screening committee.
The screening committee used a series of attributes compiled from feedback from staff, parents and community members in categories such as the ability of each applicant to create a shared vision, to build a strong school culture and community, and to show instructional leadership.
The interview process included an individual interview for each candidate with an eight-member panel of staff, parents and community members and a meeting with a parent focus group. Students led each candidate on a tour of Liberty Bell and the ILC. The candidates also completed a writing assignment and met with Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable.
Once the search committee reaches a consensus, they’ll make a recommendation to Venable. After reference checks, if the candidate accepts a job offer, the district will make an announcement to the public. That could happen by the end of this week, said Venable.
If the committee is not prepared to make a final decision, they may extend the deliberation process or decide to invite applications from other candidates, said Venable.