North Kitsap School District's new superintendent: Patrice Page

Patrice Page - Courtesy
Patrice Page
— image credit: Courtesy

POULSBO -- The North Kitsap School Board voted 4-1 Monday to offer the superintendent's position to Patrice Page, superintendent of the Coupeville School District.

Page was one of three finalists for the appointment to succeed Dr. Richard Jones, who is leaving in June at the end of his three-year contract. The other two finalists were David Gray, assistant superintendent of the Battle Ground School District; and Robert Kuehl, assistant superintendent of the Tumwater School District.

Page was nominated by school board member Tom Anderson after a 25-minute executive session; Scott Henden was the sole vote in opposition to her. Before voting, he said Page wasn't his first choice but that "I'll do my best to work with her and endorse her." Asked after the vote for his reasons for voting against Page's hire, he said, "My job at this point is to support her. I'm sure she'll do a great job."

Next comes the contract negotiation, including salary and length of contract. Jones, who has a doctorate with 30 years of experience in education, earns $140,000. Page, who has a master’s degree with 30 years of experience in education, earns $118,811 as Coupeville superintendent.

Contacted at her Coupeville home, Page -- a graduate of North Kitsap High School -- said she wasn't job hunting when she received the job notice for the North Kitsap superintendency. Her current district is "an amazing place," she said, but her mom lives here and the community mix and district's challenges fit her.

The challenges in North Kitsap -- declining enrollment, strained budgets -- "really matched a lot of my skill sets," she said. She's worked in communities with large Native American and Mexican American populations, and she grew up in a Navy family. "It seemed like a good match," she said of North Kitsap.

As superintendent, Page will have some challenges coming out of the starting gate. The school board formed a committee to study closing an elementary school, and students and teachers from the closed school will likely start the 2012-13 school year at other sites. The district is involved in a pilot program to test a new state-approved system for evaluating teachers and principals. And the district continues to tighten its belt because of declines in enrollment and money from the state.

"It's hard to say from this perspective why North Kitsap is losing students," she said. "We have to look at it and see if there's a way we can recapture those students. North Kitsap has some great programs -- vocational classes, AP classes. Those things need to be sold" to students who have left.

Page's selection is the culmination of a process that began somewhat controversially last fall. Rather than go the usual route and hire a superintendent recruitment firm, the school board, in an attempt to save money, instead put the process in the hands of an appointed citizens committee. The school board later decided to hire a consulting firm to help the committee, which found itself with applications from about 100 candidates.

The finalists visited North Kitsap for community meetings, and school board and search committee members visited the finalists' districts.

Consultant Mike Boring said he hadn't worked with a search committee before, but said Monday he'd recommend it to other districts.

"The committee provided a great deal of assistance and support," Boring said. "Their involvement allowed us as consultants to touch more people, and their involvement gave the board an additional set of eyes, which was an extremely helpful thing for the board. It could work elsewhere."

School board member Bill Webb said the committee's work showed just how much the community cares about its schools. He said the committee gave the school board "three really good candidates" as finalists, and he was pleased with the selection of Page.

Visited school district March 5

During her visit to North Kitsap, Page said that, despite budget cuts and declining enrollment in the North Kitsap School District, she believes district staff members should not lose sight of student achievement.

Page knows the district faces further budget reductions next year, along with declining enrollment, which will affect the amount of state funding the district receives. However, Page said the district has "some amazing things going on."

"Never lose sight of students and the focus that they are the most important thing," she said during a community meeting March 5.

Page said she knows the difficulties of balancing a budget.

Coupeville, which had a student population of 1,039 in May 2011, cut about $1.2 million from its budget for the 2011-12 school year — a significant amount for a district with three schools a couple alternative programs. When it comes to making cuts, she said administration is not exempt when trying to keep cuts away from the classroom. However, with an expected decline of 114 students next year — the district receives more than $6,000 in state and federal funding per student — and more funding cuts from the state, she said there will most likely be cuts that affect the classroom.

If the district is going to reduce funding from a program, Page said it becomes necessary to try and "back-fill" it. This would involve providing the same services in another way, possibly having another staff member take up extra responsibilities.

"It would be painful," Page said of budget cuts. "But it's doable and the heart and passion is here to make it work."

Because the superintendent and school board both play critical roles in decision making, Page said keeping communication open is an ongoing process. Relationships need to be built. In her previous roles, she would meet on a monthly basis individually with board members to hear their concerns.

"One is to be very intentional about building that relationship," Page said. "You can't establish something and expect it to stay. You have to keep working at it."

She said closing a school -- which would save the district about $800,000 -- will require some healing to be done.

And, while cuts are coming, Page believes in giving students a "diverse set of options" when it comes to learning. This includes making sure alternative programs and arts and technical programs and remedial and gifted programs are all kept in place. She said the district needs to "meet each students where they are."

Nathaniel Smith, an Options teacher and parent of two Options students, said March 5 he appreciated the comments Page made about alternative learning. Though programs, such as the arts, are what teachers believe make well-rounded students, he said those are also the programs that are first to go with budget cuts. His initial repines, was an appreciation with what she had to say.

According to her LinkedIn page, Page earned an undergraduate degree in history at Pacific Lutheran University in 1976, her graduate degree in special education and education administration at Western Washington University in 1981, and her superintendent credential at Washington State University in 2000.

She was a teacher in the Clover Park School District from 1976-1983, vice principal in the Post Falls School District from 1983-84, vice principal in the Gig Harbor School District from 1984-86, assistant principal in the Sunnyside School District from 1991-93, middle school principal in the East Valley School District from 1993-99, assistant superintendent in the Kelso School District from 1999-2007, and superintendent in Coupeville since 2007.

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