Meet & Greet with Central Valley’s John Parker
~July 28th, 2022
John Parker has begun his duties as the new superintendent of the Central Valley School District, taking over for Ben Small, who held the position for 14 years before retiring earlier this year.
Parker started in his new role on July 1 and brings with him over 30 years of experience in education, including teaching math and science and holding various administrative positions. He and his family have settled in Spokane after a three-year period as the director of innovation and technology at Colegio Nuevo Granada, an international private school in Bogotá, Colombia.
Parker has earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in chemistry from Washington State University. In 2015, he completed a doctorate of education with a focus on leadership and policy studies from the University of Washington.
As superintendent, Parker oversees an 18-member cabinet and a $230 million budget. Central Valley School District serves 14,700 students and employs 2,100 within an 80-square-mile district that includes the city of Liberty Lake, city of Spokane Valley, and parts of unincorporated Spokane County.
The Journal recently sat down with Parker to discuss his global experience, his new role, and what he hopes to accomplish in the near future.
What inspired you to move to Bogotá for several years?
It was a complete surprise. A role came up that would allow me and my wife to be administrators in the same school system. In international schools, that’s a real treat because they are typically small, and you don’t get that opportunity often.
I was going to be the director and my wife the middle school principal. We thought, “My goodness, we’ve never had South America in our view before. Let’s give that a try.”
It’s an absolutely wonderful country with a rich history and its share of issues. But they are incredible, resilient people. We had a wonderful time, met a lot of families, and did a lot of traveling, something we love to do.
How does your travel and world experience inform the way you lead schools here?
There are a lot of facets to that. When my wife and I were getting ready for our first interview to work in Shanghai, China, back in 2003, at first, we thought, what are we doing? But then, after the interview, part of the conversation we had was there was going to be no better way to become more culturally competent. I can say the same for Colombia.
We also wanted our children to experience the world. We left jobs we really liked to go to Colombia, but we said, “We’re not getting any younger and our kids are not getting any younger. Our children have to experience this.”
How old are your kids?
Blaine is 15 and Gus is 14. They are going to be joining us at Central Valley (High School). We thought, what a great experience for them. We wanted them to have the world view, to understand the cultural aspects and differences. What it generated in them is something my wife and I could only dream. They are close to fluency in Spanish. It’s just one of those things that is heartwarming to us as parents.
Someone shared a line with me once: To travel is to live. Having that broader global perspective has always served me well in my leadership roles.
Students who are Latino or Latina in the classroom are very interested to see another Latino or Latina person leading, teaching, and having events where they can see aspects of their own culture within this vibrant Central Valley School District. I see my role, among many things, as asking how we bring and increase those experiences here.
As a director of innovation in Bogotá, I had a chance to visit schools all over the U.S. and internationally to observe cutting-edge, innovative programs. Some of those schools are where some of the biggest CEO’s have attended.
What is your vision for the district?
There are some things that are front-and-center to me as superintendent and to our school board right now. We are very interested in closing those gaps in learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. But also, we are interested in serving every student and making sure they are getting back to the level of achievement that is going to place them on track to be very successful in whatever career path they pursue.
A hot topic is the whole sense of belonging. We have students and adults who have been disconnected for the past few years in some way, shape, or form, courtesy of the pandemic.
Because it’s important for me to meet with stakeholders, I want to spend time listening to their concerns.
What prompted your transition from teaching to administration?
When I was in the classroom, I really thought I would grow old as a teacher. I spent the first 15 years teaching math and science. I really loved the connection I had with kids. You’re on the front lines. You’re impacting people’s lives. It was powerful.
The lens I see it through is, I have a classroom of 30 students, and I have the chance to impact, influence, or change—that was so valuable to me. Then I realized, how can I do the same for a whole grade level, or a whole school?
I had the opportunity to move into director roles where I impacted kids from high poverty and kids learning English. When I did my doctorate, that’s when I started to realize I wanted to impact the entire school district. That was incredibly appealing to me, to work with others, to build their capacity and just make a difference in the lives of a community.
Do you envision staying here for the long-term?
That’s a tough question to ask someone like me, but I have no plans to move anytime soon. Central Valley and this school district is where I want to be. I’m excited to be here. I’m in a point in my career where I have no interest in going elsewhere. I can say that emphatically. There are so many rich opportunities here. The people are wonderful, and I’ve only scratched the surface. I’m excited for the work ahead and for the vision that a lot of parents and leaders have for their children moving forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.