After the Centralia School District held the second round of public interviews Wednesday night to fill the superintendent position that will be vacant after the retirement of Mark Davalos at the end of the school year, the board announced that Dr. Lisa Grant, current superintendent of the Mossyrock School District, would lead the Centralia schools beginning this summer.
“Our process was thorough, deliberate, and thoughtful. We took into account the needs of all the stakeholders in our district. This includes our students, our staff, and our community at large,” said Lori Fast, Centralia School District Board President. “Dr. Grant is a Centralian. She lives here with her husband. They are involved in the community and it was clear to us that she is committed to contributing to excellence here.”
About 40 people from the community including parents, grandparents, and school employees attended the public interviews Wednesday evening held at Fords Prairie Elementary School, and asked questions to the two remaining superintendent candidates — Grant and Mike Gass, of Colorado.
The district began the final selection process with four candidates, held public interviews at the district office boardroom Tuesday and eliminated two.
On Wednesday Jan. 29 the two remaining superintendent candidates toured schools within the district, met with staff and interacted with students during the day. In the evening each candidate had an hour to speak and answer questions from the public. Gass began the event at 4 p.m. and Grant began after Gass at 5 p.m.
After each candidate’s question session with the public they were interviewed again by the Centralia School District Board of Directors. According to a press release from the district announcing the board’s decision, they deliberated “late into the night.” The district offered the position to Grant and she accepted but the offer is tentative until negotiation of a contract.
The public asked each candidate a full hour worth of questions touching on topics of sex education, sports, poverty, leadership style, goals for the district, transportation, levies, teacher’s unions, challenges faced in past roles, discipline, and parent and community involvement.
Since Grant lives locally, she was able to better answer the questions about local levies, Washington state education policy and other issues directly related to the community. Many citizens were already familiar with Grant. A couple attendees Wednesday night publicly spoke to her character and dedication to education.
Grant has been a special education teacher, a principal, a building administrator, and a superintendent.
She worked as a building principal and executive director of special education at a school district of 100,000 students in Florida for 13 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and special education, a master’s in education and leadership, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies.
“I love going to work everyday and have a passion for education and for helping kids. My belief is that the role of a superintendent and really our goal in life is to serve. So my job as superintendent is to serve the needs of staff so they can serve the needs of kids and we can serve this district and this community,” Grant said.
Grant said that she believes in putting systems in place to allow for strong communication and collaboration.
“I can guarantee you that I can make mistakes, in fact, I can guarantee that I will make more mistakes than anyone else but I can also guarantee you that I will learn from them and I will some back each day and trying to get better and better and better,” said Grant.
The Chronicle has reported on the state of schools in the area including Mossyrock while Grant was superintendent. According to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) results of statewide testing from the 2018-2019 school year, Mossyrock had the highest math scores of all schools in Lewis County at 53.6 percent. Mossyrock also had the third-best graduation rate, 89.5 percent, of schools in the area.
When interviewed about Mossyrock’s scores Grant said that the district made changes in math instruction and were seeing it pay off.
“We’re little but we’re powerful,” said Grant in September of 2019. “We are excited. We feel like things are moving together in the right direction.”
The runner-up candidate, Gass, currently works as superintendent at Telluride School District in Telluride, Colorado, a rural resort community, but announced his retirement from the position at the end of this school year. Gass has worked in education for 33 years, spending a majority of his career at the Roaring Fork District in Vail, CO. He said that he plans to relocate to the Centralia area regardless of being chosen for the Centralia School District superintendent position. He said he is seeking the sense of community that he sees in Centralia.
“I look at education as a lifestyle so it’s not a nine to five for me. I’m always superintendent. I’m always on,” said Gass.
Gass started out as a middle school math and science teacher and has also worked as an elementary school principal, director of secondary education, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He said he has a bachelor’s degree in elementary and middle school education and a master’s degree in secondary science education and curriculum.
Gass spoke about about his community involvement, dedication to creating an environment for students that is conducive for learning and how he handles challenges that arose during his time as superintendent in Colorado.
“We want to be good stewards of public money. I think if you call our association leadership (in Colorado) what you would hear from them is that I’m extremely fair, extremely thoughtful, my heart’s in it for the employees and we are also going to be responsible with money,” Gass said.
A citizen said that he feels students are not being as respectful in the classroom as they used to be and asked how Gass would address those problems.
“I think it’s about how you go about changing that culture because it goes along. We have to talk about the character we want to help build in our kids. Set those community values of here’s our standard for Centralia and you live it and you model it for those kids,” said Gass when answering the question.At the conclusion of each candidate’s speaking time yellow comment cards were available for citizens to share their thoughts on each candidate and Ed Petersen, communications and public relations coordinator said that the comments would be read by the school’s board of directors before their decision was made.
“We want to thank Mr. Mike Gass for his time and effort. There is no question that Mr. Gass is a highly talented, accomplished, and qualified educator. We are glad to have the opportunity to have met him and the board wishes him the best in the next chapter of his career,” said Fast in a press release from the school.