EDITORIAL | High marks for interim choice

The Seattle School Board has appointed retired Marysville School District Superintendent Larry Nyland as the interim leader of Seattle Public Schools, effective Aug. 1. He will serve through the next school year, until June 2015.

When outgoing Superintendent José Banda notified the school board in mid-June that he would soon leave for the Sacramento City Unified School District, it didn’t leave much time for the board to find a replacement. Nonetheless, the board showed it has learned from past mistakes with Nyland’s selection.

Like the recently appointed Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Sullivan, Nyland has worked with embattled sectors to turn them around; in Nyland’s case, he took over Marysville’s school district after the 2003 teachers strike and restored public trust enough that voters passed the district’s first construction bond in 16 years. The Marysville School Board was later named Board of the Year in 2012.

He worked similar magic for the Shoreline School District in 1997.

Nyland, the 2006 state Superintendent of the Year and one of four finalists for the national honor, knows what is needed to effectively preside over a school district. At a special School Board meeting on Friday, July 18, to introduce him, Nyland said he aims to tackle the district’s five-year strategic plan — something that usually isn’t expected of “temporary” personnel. Such determination from the onset can only engage faculty, parents and students, who need a leader (a Roosevelt High School graduate, no less) who can show them what it means to solve problems — whether they involve math or an institution.

The Seattle School Board hasn’t made good choices in its previous schools chiefs, interim or otherwise. They’ve left after relatively few years — some amid scandal (like Joseph Olchefske and Maria Goodloe-Johnson); some for other districts (like Banda’s interim predecessor, Susan Enfield). But the board hasn’t had prime candidates to select from either, with many contenders dropping out during the interview process. The board would then appoint the interim superintendent (who were sometimes senior district leaders) by default because there wasn’t anyone viable left; hence, seven leaders in 19 years.

Nyland has spent his retirement years consulting on “superintendent evaluations and other leadership issues in several districts, including Seattle,” as noted in The Seattle Times. If Nyland doesn’t want the position permanently, he should teach the Seattle School Board a thing or two more about what makes a strong leader and school district as it embarks on the search for the new superintendent.