On December 16th, 2022, Living Snoqualmie reached out to former Superintendent Dr. Lance Gibbon via email to see if he would be interested in answering questions about his separation from and settlement with the Snoqualmie Valley School District.
Gibbon declined to answer any questions regarding his employment with the SVSD but did give Living Snoqualmie a statement on how he feels about the valley and how he’s feeling now.
“…Much of our family, including our two adult boys, lives near the Seattle area. My youngest is studying at Seattle Pacific University to become a teacher, and the oldest is a computer programmer. Being close to them and the rest of our family was a big driver in leaving Oak Harbor, and we’re thankful to be here.
While this experience has been very hard on all of us, we love Snoqualmie Valley and the wonderful little home we purchased. We enjoy walking downtown and visiting the terrific shops and restaurants or taking a stroll around the corner to visit the elk and spectacular views of Mt. Si.
Though we don’t know what’s next, after 30 years of public service to kids and families, my heart and passion for students and the community remains strong.”
In a telephone conversation earlier in the week, Dr. Gibbon said he plans to remain in education.
We also contacted all five of the Snoqualmie Valley School District board members on December 18th to ask questions about the situation between the now-former Superintendent, Dr. Lance Gibbon and the board.
Since we were nearing the District’s winter break, it wasn’t sure we’d hear back until school was back in session on January 3rd. However, within 30 minutes of the first email contact, President Melissa Johnson emailed back, saying, “Thank you for reaching out and giving us an opportunity to answer these important and well-thought-out questions. As you can imagine, we will need to consult with legal prior to providing you answers. I will work on connecting with our legal representation tomorrow in order to get these answers back to you in a timely manner. I am hopeful that the holiday week will not cause a delay.”
Johnson followed up on December 19th to give Living Snoqualmie an update on the District’s timeline and provided answers on December 20th.
The first question we asked was one that appeared to be on everyone’s minds, judging by social media posts.
Question: Parents think the letter to the community was unnecessarily harsh and potentially damaging to Dr. Gibbon’s career. Can you explain the thought process behind the crafting of the letter?
Answer: The school board felt strongly that the community deserved as candid an explanation as possible for the reasons behind its decision regarding Dr. Gibbon’s separation.
The letter was developed and unanimously approved by the Board with that sole purpose in mind. Throughout this entire process, the Board acted on behalf of the District’s best interests and in no way intended to harm Dr. Gibbon or his career.
Question: The letter mentions a meeting and a planned course correction. Can you tell me what the course correction was and how it failed to happen?
Answer: Due to employee privacy laws, the school District is not at liberty to share these details with the media or public.
Question: There are claims that since Dr. Gibbon was a proponent of the arts and that this was the reason for his firing. Can you speak to the veracity of this theory?
Answer: There is no truth to these claims. The rationale behind the school Board’s actions is clearly described in the letter written to the community. Dr. Gibbon’s support of the arts was never discussed, nor was it a factor in the Board’s decision-making process.
The entire Board is fully committed to our school District’s mission and vision statements. We support all aspects of student education and believe that a strong suite of arts programming is an important part of providing a well-rounded and robust educational program.
Question: The separation agreement notes that his contract will be paid out by September 2023 and that he will retain his sick leave. Will the District have to cover the cost of his sick leave payout? It appears to me not according to this “UPON RESIGNATION, RETIREMENT OR DEATH, RCW 41.35.010, RCW 41.32.010, RCW 28A.400.212, RCW 41.40.010, WAC 392.136, SCHOOL Board RESOLUTION #572.” but I wanted to verify.
Answer: Since Dr. Gibbon was a public employee while he was employed by the Snoqualmie Valley School District, he is entitled under Washington State law to carry over his sick leave balance to a new public school district or public employer. Thus, the Snoqualmie Valley School District will not be responsible for paying out Dr. Gibbon’s remaining sick leave balance.
Question: The letter spoke of a ‘significant number of key leadership changes in the last year.’ Is this referring to two recent personnel changes in two SVSD elementary schools?
Answer: Part of the school board’s decision-making process regarding Dr. Gibbon’s employment involved the number of key leadership changes that occurred following last school year (2021-2022). While not the primary rationale for separating with Dr. Gibbon, there was concern that additional key leaders would leave this school year.
As noted in our letter, the school board firmly believes that all the school district’s current leaders are critical to our school’s ongoing and future success. The school board was worried about the amount of institutional knowledge that would be lost if more leaders were to leave the District.
Question: How does the Board plan to prevent such a mistake in hiring in the future?
Answer: It has been the Board’s practice to contract with national search firms to help recruit and vet candidates who apply for the position. Additionally, our hiring process has always involved extensive input from community, staff, students, and administration. In the 2021 interview process, over 100 community and staff members and nearly 50 administrators provided feedback which was taken into consideration when the hiring decision was made.
Each finalist was required to submit complex “homework” assignments to help gauge their capabilities and fit with our District. Unfortunately, hiring employees is not an exact science, and even such an extremely thorough hiring process can fail to identify weaknesses that don’t align with the Snoqualmie Valley District’s mission and vision. As a Board, we are focused on what we might do differently in the future.
So, the only new information we learned is that the SVSD will not be paying out Dr. Gibbon’s accumulated sick leave and that he likely will remain in the educational system. Beyond that, no one is talking on the record.
The Snoqualmie Valley School District has had four superintendents in six years, but while doing background research on this story, Living Snoqualmie found that this isn’t an SVSD issue or even a Washington State issue.
According to Joel Aune, Executive Director for the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) and a former Superintendent for the SVSD, the number of New Superintendents by Year in the State of Washington (September 1) was as follows:
YEAR: NUMBER AVE TENURE OF CURRENT SUPTS
2022: 80 (27%) 3.7
2021: 60 (20%) 4.2
2020: 39 (13%) 4.8
2019: 44 (15%) 4.6
2018: 47 (16%) 5.0
2017: 36 (12%) 5.3
2016: 42 (14%) 5.2
* Number: districts with a new superintendent starting the school year (some experienced, others first-year). % is of all school districts in the state of Washington (295).
Nationwide in the last couple of years, there have been a significant number of superintendent buyouts.
Aune noted that there was a 25% turnover nationwide last year, compared with 14-16% in years previous, and numbers here in Washington state are consistent with national trends.
He said that WASA does not track separation agreements other than those they become aware of through the media, official school district communications, or word of mouth.
For last year (2021-22), they know of five confirmed separation agreements in Washington state. However, there may have been more. Says Aune, “these five are those of which we are aware.”
Oregon has had so many buyouts in recent years that Oregon senate bill 1521 passed to offer protection to superintendents facing ‘without cause’ termination from school boards.
Theories abound online as to why this is happening, but again no one is talking. For the time being, the Snoqualmie Valley School District has Interim Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt.
Schlotfeldt was selected as the Interim Superintendent by the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors during the Thursday, Sept. 22, School Board meeting.
Says Board member Carolyn Simpson, “As a school board member, I have had the opportunity to closely assess the strengths of our superintendents as to their focus on the education of our valley students. I am very pleased with the work that Interim Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt, the administrative team, and our employee groups are conducting in this pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning.”
Board president Melissa Johnson was asked what the decision-making process will be in deciding whether or not to keep him (Dan) in the role of Superintendent and said, “The process of hiring a Superintendent is critical to any school district. In our District, we have been very successful in growing the skills and experience of our existing staff and promoting from within. The best course of action is based on a carefully constructed succession plan that allows potential candidates for leadership positions to be identified and receive the professional development and experiences they need to take on more responsibility. To be able to promote an individual who is well known to the District is far less risky than a recruitment process. It was unfortunate that for our most recent Superintendent search process, no internal candidates applied, and we had no choice but to rely on an external search.“
“Dan has been with Snoqualmie Valley School District as a teacher, a principal, and an administrator; his skills, knowledge, and experience are well known across the District. His work as Interim Superintendent over the last three months has been at the level we expect from our teaching and learning leader. Nevertheless, it is the intention of the Board to carry out careful due diligence, checking with stakeholders at all levels in the District and the community to validate our view of Dan’s performance in the role. We will share details of this process in the next few weeks.“
“It is the Board’s intention to make a decision as soon as the necessary due diligence has been completed.”
For now, it seems all interested parties need to practice patience. Three SVSD board positions will be up for election in 2023, and no announcement has been made regarding plans for a new Superintendent search.
Living Snoqualmie will update this story should any new documents become available via public records requests in the coming months.