By SERAINE PAGE
BREMERTON — Dr. Aaron Leavell, former director of secondary education for the North Kitsap School District, is the new superintendent of the Bremerton School District.
Leavell was selected by the Bremerton School Board on Sept. 5. The audience clapped in approval, eliciting a broad smile from Leavell.
"I'm kind of speechless right now," Leavell said after the meeting. "I'm just thrilled to be their superintendent."
A week prior to the meeting, residents filled the board room to give their opinions on who should enter into former superintendent Lester "Flip" Herndon's position. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be that Leavell — who was serving as interim superintendent and was formerly the district's assistant superintendent — would be an ideal fit.
Herndon announced his departure in mid-August; his last day was Aug. 31, leaving the district little time to conduct a lengthy search and find a replacement before the 2013-14 school year began. Herndon's plans to leave the district were no secret, as he had applied for a few other superintendent positions over the last few years.
Board member Scott Rahm said he was impressed with the amount of community input and involvement in the process. Rahm said it was important to him as a board member to get opinions from stakeholders in the community before the board made a final decision. He was also glad to get past the "acting" role Leavell had been temporarily placed in.
"It really shaped my decision," he said of the public input. "I feel I have all the information I need to make an informed decision."
Dave Boynton agreed and made it clear prior to the announcement that the board needed to be swift in its decision because of heavy decisions like the levy coming up. He was also concerned about the cost of a search, and said he personally looked into what a national search would cost. He was given a quote of $75,000, he said.
"We need to make a quick and decisive decision," he said. He also acknowledged the public input and said he was pleased by the abundance of phone calls and emails he received.
Leavell's teaching career began in 1997 in the Bremerton School District. He worked in the district for 13 years.
Leavell worked in the North Kitsap School District for three years as director of secondary education. When Leavell began working with NKSD, he did not have much experience with administrative duties, he said in a 2012 interview with the Herald. During his three years with NKSD, he worked with a "highly competent team" and hoped to bring that knowledge to Bremerton, he said. His last day with NKSD was June 30, 2012.
Leavell was born and raised in Kitsap County, another point many parents and educators made at last week's open meeting. His roots are firmly planted in the Bremerton School District, some said.
With a new assistant superintendent vacancy, another search will begin, and Leavell said that will be his first mission as the new superintendent.
"Now that will become my top priority," he said of the search. It may be an interim or permanent position, depending on opinions he receives from board members. He hopes to have a decision by the end of the month, he said.
Leavell's contract and its details — such as salary — will not be official until the next board meeting Sept. 19. Until then, he will work on negotiating his very first contract, he said.
Other top priorities will include directing focus on the levy, new Common Core State Standards, and the new teacher evaluations that have recently been put into place. Working with the budget will be another high priority on his list, he said.
The vote was well-received by audience members, and prompted some to come up and surround Leavell with hugs and congratulatory remarks.
Overall, Leavell said he is thrilled to serve the district in a new capacity. "I'm looking forward to the upcoming year," he said. "I'm elated. This is a very exciting time for me and the Bremerton School District."