Parting Thoughts with Spokane Public Schools’ Shelley Redinger
~July 16th, 2020
Shelley Redinger is leaving Spokane following eight years as superintendent of Spokane Public Schools to become superintendent of Richland School District, in Richland, Washington. She’ll start at Richland on Aug. 1, but until then, she’s helping her successor, Adam Swinyard, get settled in his new position.
The Journal spoke with Redinger via telephone to discuss her tenure with SPS and what’s next for her.
Journal: What initially attracted you to Spokane Public Schools?
Redinger: I was born in Spokane and grew up in this region. We moved to Chewelah when I was in fifth grade. I spent so much time in Spokane. My parents have lived in Spokane for years. My mother was struggling with cancer. The job at Spokane Public Schools opened up, and it’s such a wonderful district. The community support, first and foremost, is just amazing for bonds and levies and supporting public schools. All of that was very attractive.
How has your job changed since you arrived eight years ago?
In terms of funding, we had the McCleary decision, which greatly changed how we receive funds. We’ve continued to work through that and advocate for dollars to support Spokane Public Schools.
We’re shifting to the middle school model, which we’re all very excited about. It’s getting to a sixth- through eighth-(grade) model and building all the new middle schools. That will be a big change that’s in process now.
Graduation rates really increased. We’re above the state average now, almost at 98%. That was through community partnerships and staff really focusing on it and doing an amazing job.
The superintendency changes daily in terms of the demands and priorities. You really have to juggle a lot of balls in the air at one time without dropping any. I never would have thought we’d have COVID, where we’ve closed schools completely.
It’s important now more than ever, with social media, to work closely with media in terms of sharing the story about public education. So much information can get out there so quickly, and once it’s out there, everyone thinks that’s the truth and what really happened, and so often, it’s not the whole story. Trying to be proactive and transparent early and often is very important.
What have been some highlights of your time as superintendent here?
Passing the $495 million bond was huge in terms of the middle schools’ partnerships with the libraries. I think that will serve generations to come. All of those projects, right now, are on time and within or under budget. We’re very proud of that. We have a great team at the district level, and we have good partnerships with our contractors and architects that make these dreams happen at a high quality.
I mentioned the graduation rate. I think that has been important.
Our relationship with our business partners has continued to improve, and we have a lot of partnerships with our local universities. Our whole T24 initiative was very important in coordinating with our colleges and universities, and the workforce. (T24 refers to the technical, two-year, and four-year higher education options students have after graduation. The program aims to help students choose their post-high school path.)
We were able to do a study of our highly capable programs as well as our special education programs, and we continue to make changes in those areas based on those reports’ recommendations. Continued improvement is something that I think is very important. You have to be careful not to rest on your laurels, because you’ll think you’ve got it all figured out, and you constantly have to be learning and growing and developing as a system.
What are some of the greater challenges you’ve faced in this role?
The McCleary decision and how that played out differently for different districts has been challenging. We were hit pretty hard by the decision in terms of how it changed our funding model. I think passing the levy this February will be critical for Spokane Public Schools.
The decision that the governor made to cancel school has been challenging in terms of not being able to reach our most vulnerable students. We’ve been setting up remote learning and making sure students are supported, and not widening the accessibility gap in terms of access to technology, access to other support, access to athletics.
Some of the club sports are starting now at some of the private schools, but yet, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is waiting. That’s not the right approach for our students who really need to be active and be engaged in interacting with their coaches, who are their mentors.
I know (Adam) Swinyard is doing a good job with (associate superintendent for capital projects and facility services) Mark Anderson in terms of what are some different options the board can look at to decide how we go back to school and what that looks like. I’ve been watching nationwide and looking at different models as well and sharing those with Adam and Mark.
What led to your decision to leave the district?
We were looking for employment for my husband. My husband’s a mechanical engineer. Both of us started our careers in the Tri-Cities, right out of college. We met at WSU, where he was in engineering and I was in education. We started our careers, and he had a fellowship with Battelle (the company that operates Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), and I started teaching in Richland. My very first job and Darin’s first job.
We have a lot of ties there, and he has lots of job opportunities there. We were looking across the country at what would be good for both of our careers, and then the Richland superintendency opened.
It worked out really well for our family.
What drew you to apply for the superintendent position in Richland?
Just our positive history there, and where the current board is (with) its goals, as I’m watching what they’re working on. And then for my husband’s job. It was very well-aligned.
(Richland School District) is very similar to the current goals of Spokane Public Schools, making sure that we provide opportunities for students. The district in Richland just hired a new director of online learning. I’m very excited about that. I immediately connected him with our Spokane Virtual Learning director, Kristin (Whiteaker). Getting more remote learning, virtual learning lined up, that’s a big goal for the Richland School District.
With my experience in Spokane, it’s a very good match.
They also are looking long term at another bond referendum. I fully enjoyed, in Oregon (Trail School District) as well as Spokane, helping with bonds and developing new schools and innovative buildings. They’re looking down the road at some additional facilities. Richland is growing. They’re at about 14,000 students. It’s a good match with what they need and what my skill set is.
What are you going to miss most about Spokane?
We have amazing support from the community. Just the percentage of bonds and levies passed is really outstanding. Richland also is very supportive, so that’s good. But Spokane is really known for that.
I’ll really miss my staff. We have amazing teachers and principals and classified staff. I’ll miss the people who are really amazing and care about SPS. And I’ll miss ribbon cuttings. I’m hoping to attend those virtually.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity