‘These are challenging times, but I’m very optimistic and hopeful about our future’

Aaron Hansen reacts to new role as Washougal School District’s interim superintendent

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Washougal High School Principal Aaron Hansen chats with students in May 2019. In April 2024, the Washougal School Board announced Hansen would be the district’s 2024-25 interim superintendent. (Contributed photo courtesy Washougal School District)

Aaron Hansen experienced a flurry of emotions after hearing that Washougal School District (WSD) Superintendent Mary Templeton accepted a similar position with the Lake Stevens (Washington) School District earlier last month.

First, the WSD’s assistant superintendent was excited for Templeton; he knew that she had been seeking to move north for several years due to family considerations. Then he started to worry about the immediate future of the WSD, which was all of a sudden facing the prospect of entering a challenging school year without its two top leaders. And finally, he started to wonder about his own immediate future.

Hansen, the WSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources and student services since 2019, accepted a human resources director position at the Camas School District in January, one month before WSD announced it would have to cut $3 million from its 2024-25 budget.

“I thought, ‘At this time, the district really doesn’t need to have this many perople leaving district leadership with what’s happening,’” Hansen told The Post-Record. “We are in a challenging situation right now, and I wasn’t sure how that would play out with (Templeton) leaving and myself leaving. Not that I don’t have an incredible amount of confidence for the people that are still here as leaders and staff, but I didn’t want that to all be on them.”

That’s why Hansen, who was appointed as the WSD’s interim superintendent for the 2024-25 school year on April 30, is “very excited” about his new role.

“I know where we’re going, and I see that we are making an impact,” he said. “These are challenging times, but I’m very optimistic and hopeful about our future. I appreciate the direction we’re headed in and what we’ve been working on. We’re just going to keep working on those things, and I think we’re seeing (positive) results.”

During the past five years, Hansen has led WSD’s human resources efforts, administering collective bargaining agreements, coordinating labor negotiations and developing staffing strategies.

“I’ve been doing human resources and student services for the last five years, and I’ve also gotten more involved with the Washington School Personnel Association,” said Hansen, a longtime Camas resident and the father of two Camas High School graduates, “With the interest that I’ve had in human resources and supporting staff and what’s happening across the state, when that position came open, I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ I had some conversations with some Camas staff, and thought, ‘I think I might go ahead and do that.’”

Hansen said that the WSD’s budget situation also played a role in his decision to apply for the CSD position.

“I knew that we needed to, in essence, eliminate at least (one) leadership position in the district office, that we weren’t going to be able to meet our goal of $3 million without having a substantial impact on the district leadership,” he said. “I thought, ‘It could be my position. We’ve (had years where we didn’t have an assistant superintendent in the past) when times were lean, and we can do it again.’ Mary and I talked about the scenario of, if I took this job, then the assistant superintendent position would be the first one that we placed (on the reduction list). It was the first one we placed.”

When news broke about Templeton’s new job, however, Hansen immediately knew that he wanted to pursue the possibility of staying with the WSD, and that if he succeeded in his efforts, his CSD tenure would be over before it even began.

But CSD Superintendent John Anzalone called Hansen before Hansen had a chance to call him, turning a potentially awkward or contentious conversation into a productive, supportive one.

“I wanted to make sure that he knew that I value his commitment to Washougal very much,” Anzalone said. “I think that him staying in Washougal, although disappointing to us, is only going to grow the relationship and the partnership between Camas and Washougal even more. I knew that Washougal had a good guy there, a very loyal employee, so I knew in my heart that there was a chance that they were going to look at him for their interim needs, if not more down the road.

“Selfishly speaking, we went through a process, we picked Aaron, he was our person, and obviously, you never want to lose a good man and a talented administrator. But the right thing is for him to stay there, continue the great work (that he’s been doing), and help to get Washougal out of a tough situation. I’m very, very understanding of that.”

That conversation — and ensuing talks with Anzalone and other CSD staff members during the next two weeks — greatly helped to set Hansen’s mind at ease.

“It was amazing to be able to connect with (Anzalone), to have that conversation. It really was helpful for me,” Hansen said. “It shows who he is and what’s important to him. He had the grace and patience to allow me an opportunity to make that decision (without the) initial resistance or pressure I was feeling. I just so appreciate that he provided me that opportunity, because (that conversation) could have been different. I just know that he was looking out for Washougal.”

Hansen has 31 years of experience in education, including 23 in Washougal, as a teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent.

Hansen served as the principal of Washougal High School from 2011 to 2019 before being named to his current role. Previously, he taught math and science at Washougal High and Excelsior High School.

“I love the fact that Aaron served as a high school principal and came up the ranks that way. Running a comprehensive high school is like running a small city in itself. I think that is a job that really prepares you for the duties of a superintendent,” Anzalone said. “Aaron is also very fiscally responsible. I think he’ll help to keep the budget in a safe place. He has political IQ, and of course, the human resources background is great because I think that will help him run ethical, very thoughtful hiring processes as they move forward.”

Anzalone also praised Hansen’s family-first focus.

“First and foremost, Aaron is a very likable person. He’s a personable leader, and very approachable,” Anzalone said. “In a smaller community like Washougal, that’s a very important quality. Families, community members, and students can come up to him and have an honest conversation. And Aaron is a very good listener. His personal qualities are going to be very important, because the superintendent role is all about relationships, and I think that’s what stood out to me (about him) right from day one.”

Prior to joining the Washougal School District, Hansen was a math and science teacher at Rogers High School in Spokane for eight years. He also taught English for one year in Taiwan.

Hansen has undergraduate and master’s degrees from Eastern Washington University, as well as a superintendent credential from Washington State University.

“(Being a superintendent) is one of my ultimate goals that I’ve been pursuing, and I’ve been waiting for that time when it felt right,” Hansen said. “After Mary announced (her plans), I felt this could be the time. A lot of things needed to happen for that to be the case, so I feel very fortunate that it has worked out for me, and I am super excited for the opportunity.”

Washougal School Board president Angela Hancock said during the Board’s April 30 special meeting that Hansen possesses leadership capabilities, extensive experience in educational administration, effective communication skills, the ability to foster relationships and collaborate with diverse stakeholders, problem-solving abilities, and a comprehensive understanding of the district’s requirements, educational policies and budgets.

“From teacher to principal to coach and all the things that you’ve done in human resources, this is a natural step, and I really believe that you’re ready for it,” Hancock told Hansen. “There’s a lot going on, but I wouldn’t even question (you) at this point. I feel like you’re ready for this, and I think you feel that you are too.”

Washougal School Board member Chuck Carpenter acknowledged that the school district doesn’t have “$25,000 or $30,000” to spend on a superintendent search right now, and that the district’s “only option to avoid chaos of a whole new administration is to hope that (Hansen) will accept the job as interim superintendent.”

“I feel like stability is important this year,” board member Ida Royer added. “We don’t have a lot of time to go through that search, and we don’t have the money. I think we’re blessed with a really good, viable option (in Hansen), and we’ll see how this next year goes. We’re not going to have an assistant superintendent, so having somebody who understands the staff and can take that extra burden is also going to be important. I want to acknowledge that there is going to be more burden for everyone, including the superintendent. … It’s not going to be an easy job.”

The Board voted to approve the district’s modified educational plan, which lists all of the district’s planned reductions, including 14 teacher positions, for the 2024-25 school year in April.

“This isn’t the time to bring in new initiatives. This isn’t the time to make any major changes,” said Hansen, who is currently leading the district’s contract negotiations with the Washougal Association of Educators and the Public Schools of Washington Washougal Chapter for new teacher contracts.

“I think we just keep working on what we’re working on and adjusting. We’re forced to adjust right now with staffing. There are priorities that the board has established. We hear that, and we’re working on that, and that’s one of the things we’re doing right now, getting our fund balance back to our identified number.”