Search for new Camas schools superintendent goes nationwide; community weighs in

School board expected to choose final candidates by Thanksgiving; will introduce top picks to community before final decision

A good listener. An effective communicator dedicated to being transparent. A person who will engage the community, exemplify kindness and unity, work well with staff and lead a school district that helps students develop strong critical-thinking skills.

These are just a few of the top qualities Camasonians say they hope to see in the next Camas School District superintendent.

“(Someone who is) strategic, engaging and courageous,” Camas Mayor Ellen Burton said when asked what skills the next Camas schools chief should bring to the table during an Oct. 7 Camas School District forum that included current and former Camas mayors — Burton and Nan Henriksen — as well as David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal; Tim Hein, president of the Camas Planning Commission; and other notable Camas stakeholders.

Forum moderator Steven Lowder, a retired superintendent who works with McPherson and Jacobson, the Nebraska-based administrator search firm leading the hunt for Camas’ next superintendent, had asked Burton and the other stakeholders to name the skills they hoped the next Camas superintendent would embody.

“(They) have got to be out in the community right now … ensuring (their) behavior is consistent with (their) words, because that’s what people watch,” Burton said, adding she also hoped the new superintendent would help bring people who might be “quieter, more marginalized” into the conversations that help guide the school district, which Burton pointed out is becoming increasingly diverse.

Henriksen, the former Camas mayor often associated with shifting Camas out of its “one-mill town” mindset, bringing in high-tech companies and helping the town evolve into one of Clark County’s most successful and affluent communities, said she admired former Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell — who left Camas in July 2021 to lead the nearby Vancouver Public Schools district.

“I was always impressed with Jeff Snell’s empathy for every student, no matter where they were,” Henriksen said. “(Snell) wasn’t just out there in the community, he was in the schools, talking to kids and listening to kids … and that was a huge gift.”

Henriksen said she hoped the district’s new superintendent also might demonstrate these “palpable” empathy and active-listening skills.

Burton, Ripp and the other stakeholders said building partnerships would be a critical part of any new superintendent’s responsibilities.

“The school district has always cultivated strong partnerships … with parents, businesses, organizations. It is core to the district’s success,” Burton said. “Now, in the public sector, with costs increasing, it is even more important to take advantage of the resources that are here … and in the best interest of community members to build strong partnerships.”

Community members have had several chances to weigh in on the school district’s months-long search for a new superintendent.

The district held two, in-person “listening posts” in late September and launched an online “ThoughtExchange” in early October.

Though only a handful of community members turned out for the second in-person listening post, held Saturday, Sept. 25, at Lacamas Lake Elementary School, nearly 400 have participated in the online ThoughtExchange, which asks community members to weigh in on the school district’s “most important strengths and challenges.” As of Oct. 11, 385 people had participated in the confidential ThoughtExchange, which closes Friday, Oct. 15.

The ThoughtExchange also asked participants to rank each other’s statements about the skills important to the district’s next superintendent. The comments with the highest ratings included:

  • “Being a good listener and engaged with the community;”
  • “Keeping technology, science, math, coding, robotics (and) different sports programs like running club up to date;”
  • “Focus on providing excellent education to all Camas students;”
  • “The ability to communicate clearly and on issues, especially when it comes to difficult topics;”
  • “The importance of developing smart and critical thinkers to be successful citizens of the world,”
  • “Works well with staff, understands what is happening in classrooms;” and
  • “Teach and exemplify kindness and unity.”

Most of the comments that have received low ratings on the ThoughtExchange were those trying to bring politically charged topics like “critical race theory” or championing anti-mask and anti-vaccine stances. Among the lowest-rated comments:

  • “Masking is a form of abuse. Our kids should not be wearing them;”
  • “Remove all COVID protocols;”
  • “Leave Critical Race Theories out of the schools;”
  • “Returning our schools to SCHOOLS again. They are not HOSPITALS. They are not PRISONS;”
  • “Not a communist. We have too many as it is.”

Lowder, who is leading McPherson and Jacobson’s hunt for a new Camas schools superintendent, has been regularly updating the Camas School Board during the Board’s workshops and meetings. On Monday, Oct. 11, Lowder said the search is “going really well” and said the district’s nationwide job posting, which went out on Oct. 1, has already garnered five inquiries and seven applicants.

“It’s very early,” Lowder added. “We normally get some of our highest quality applicants in the last few days before a (job posting) closes. I’m not sure why, maybe because people are very busy and want to get all their ducks in a row before it closes.”

The job posting, which is advertising for a superintendent who is “a mature leader with strong interpersonal and communications skills … who has proven success at navigating an organization through difficult or polarizing times … (and) values accessibility and transparency in all things … who will be highly visible and engaged in the community and schools,” with a salary range between $210,000 and $235,000 a year, closes on Nov. 3.

The Camas School Board will select finalists to interview by Nov. 22, and will interview top candidates the last week of November and first week of December. The Board plans to select a new superintendent in mid-December, and has said community members will have a chance to learn more about the top candidates before the Board’s final selection.

In April, the Camas School Board appointed the district’s director of elementary education, Doug Hood, to be the district’s interim superintendent for the 2021-22 school year. The new superintendent will start their new position with the Camas School District on July 1, 2022.

To learn more about the district’s search for a superintendent, or to participate in the ThoughtExchange, visit camas.wednet.edu.