The Chehalis School District announced Thursday morning that the school board has offered the superintendent position to Dr. Christine Moloney after a two-day interview process with the final two candidates.
“Dr. Moloney rose to the top of a thorough and thoughtful process. We had a remarkably strong pool of applicants,” said Colleen State, Board President, in a press release from the district. “Chehalis is a special place and we knew we needed a special person to carry on the great work that has been happening here in our schools. We are very excited to see Christine lead the hard work of our dedicated staff forward to the next level on our Student Achievement Initiative and continue to forge community partnerships like those with Centralia College and our Chehalis Foundation.”
Moloney is currently the Chief Academic Officer at the Puyallup School District and has experience working as a teacher, principal, director, and executive director. She has her doctorate, master’s degree and superintendent certificate from the University of Seattle and a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
The runner-up candidate for the superintendent position was Andre Hargunani, who currently serves as the principal of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) at the Richland School District. Hargunani has his master’s degree from the University of Michigan, his bachelor’s degree from the University of California Los Angeles and completed his superintendent certification program at Washington State University.
The final candidates were selected from a pool of 20 applications. Current superintendent Ed Rothlin, who announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, said that the district used consultants to help them with the process of narrowing down the applicants to the two who they felt would best fit the district.
“Having been through the process on the other side of the fence, I was very pleased with the process that our board used,” said Rothlin. “We were looking for the right person to fit into the Student Achievement Initiative.”
Hargunani toured schools within the Chehalis School District and met with school employees during the day on Tuesday, Feb. 18. He had an hour to meet community members then was publically interviewed by the school board in the afternoon at W.F. West High School. Moloney did the same on the following day.
The public interviews were well attended by community members and school district staff— drawing about 50 people on both days.
Each candidate was asked the same 12 questions and the audience members followed along on a form that was handed out before the start of the interview that listed the questions which included a box for the observers to write comments and feedback to be read by the school board before the decision was made.
The set of a dozen questions touched on the candidate’s professional career and background in education, financial decisions, core values, community partnerships and involvement, retaining qualified teachers, supporting disenfranchised students, and goals for the future of the Chehalis School District.
When asked about financials, Hargunani emphasized the importance of being transparent and clear about where the money is going and funding what the district deems most important such as the Student Achievement Initiative (SAI).
“Really being clear about why we are funding certain things and not other things. This district has a very clear plan with the SAI so the finances should be going toward those initiatives,” Hargunani said.
Hargunani said that the Chehalis School District is really aligned with everything he has been doing in education.
“We had really strong pathways,” said Hargunani about his experience at the STEAM school in Los Angeles. “That’s one of the things that drew me to Chehalis, the career and college pathways that have been developed here through the SAI because that was so much of my work at that school.”
Hargunani explained his core values in education as helping students take ownership of their learning, being responsive to culture and community, and instilling positive values in students.
“I’d say that one of the most important qualities of a good teacher is one that really cares for the students because you can’t always teach caring. You can teach the instructional strategies but you can’t teach the love,” Hargunani said.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, Moloney was publicly interviewed and she was asked the same questions that were asked of Hargunani the day before.
Moloney described her core values as what she called “the three R’s”: relationship — building relationships with students, staff and community; rigor — implementing strong instructional strategies; and relevance —making sure the curriculum is preparing students for college or a career.
“I don’t run away from conflict. I think conflict is an important part of the education process but it’s how you go about it and handle the situation when conflict arises. I respect others even if I disagree with them. I am completely honest and I want to hear from all kinds of people from many different backgrounds,” Moloney said.
Moloney emphasized the importance she places on being visible in classrooms and schools during the day and being involved in the community after school.
“As a superintendent and right now as a chief academic officer, I meet weekly with my assistant to go through the budget and see where things are at and that we are going in strategic directions. I think it’s incredibly important to fund what you care about and make sure that it’s aligned,” Moloney said when asked about her approach to a district’s budget. “If you do not have the trust of the community, you will not do well financially at all because you’ll start losing your levies, et cetera. You must have those relationships established and that transparency and that trust.”
Moloney said that a great teacher to her is someone who puts their relationship with the students above the content that is being taught.
“Professional development supports are important in retaining teachers. If I’m a new teacher coming into the Chehalis district what kinds of supports are in place? For veteran teachers, honoring the skills and the abilities that they have brought to the classroom and highlighting that,” she said.
Moloney spoke about some of the barriers that could be in place for students such as not having enough food at home or financial barriers and focusing on ways to remove those barriers.
“I don’t think you can lead effectively if you don’t first listen. A leader is someone who is cognizant of all of the stakeholders, views and perspectives and is respectful of that,” Moloney said.