Educational Service District 123
Number of employees you oversee: Educational Service District (ESD 123) currently employs 255 individuals.
Brief background about ESD 123 and its role:
The nine educational service districts in the state of Washington are educational organizations that serve schools and communities in a specific region. ESD 123 serves 23 school districts across seven counties in southeast Washington. Our main goal is to provide services that support schools in meeting their educational mission and goals. ESD 123 offers various services ranging from providing early childhood programs, to educator professional development, to supporting school functions such as special education services or school nursing. By doing these things, ESD 123 contributes to making education better for everyone in the region. A small portion of our funding comes from the state (3%), while the rest of our funding comes from grants and fee-for-service contracts.
How did you land your current role? How long have you been in it?
In March of 2022, ESD 123 conducted a search for a new superintendent with the pending retirement of then superintendent, Darcy Weisner. ESD 123 conducted a candidate search and several rounds of interviews. I was fortunate enough to be chosen by the ESD Board of Directors to fill this position. My contract started on July 1, 2022, so I have served in this position for a little over a year.
What do you wish the Tri-Cities knew about ESD 123?
Our ESD 123 team prides itself in working in the background to support the great work of our regional school districts. Our focus is not to be known by the community, but to support our communities by working through the schools to help them be successful. Given that, the most important thing for the general community to know is that if you want to support our regional schools in any way, ESD 123 might be the partner most suited to help you achieve your goals.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Leaders need a wide range of characteristics to be successful, but one of the most important is to be more concerned with the right answer than with being right. Successful leaders surround themselves with the most skilled people possible and are not afraid to have their thoughts and ideas challenged as the team works to solve problems and build the organization. Only by creating a culture where there is a high level of trust can leaders build the teams needed to achieve and sustain success, and a leader with an ego who does not allow dissent will never build this team.
What is the biggest challenge facing educators and administrators today?
The biggest challenge facing educators and administrators today is time. Over the past 100 years, more and more responsibilities have been added to schools, and the needs of students and families have increased as well. While these dynamics have increased, very little has changed in the structure of schools. This has created a situation where there is not the time in the work day of an educator or administrator to adequately meet the challenges in front of them.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry?
Our school system was not designed for the challenges of today; the structure of school has not changed significantly since its inception in the mid-19th century. If I had a magic wand, I would remove the many barriers to educational innovation so we could better create schools focused on the needs of students and families.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Leadership is about creating and guiding teams to achieve the organization’s goals. To be an effective leader, you must focus on positively supporting and developing those around you. It’s important to gather a strong team and establish an environment where they can succeed. Keep in mind that without the right team culture, reaching your goals becomes extremely difficult.
Who are your role models or mentors?
I do not have any specific mentors and consider many of my superintendent colleagues as role models. The network created by our regional ESDs and our state superintendent association WASA (Washington Association of School Administrators) has provided many important opportunities for me as a growing administrator to learn from others and hone my skills as an educational leader.
How do you keep your employees motivated?
Keeping employees motivated is first accomplished by hiring people who are already motivated individuals. Second, leaders need to build and sustain a work culture where employees feel valued and trusted as professionals. Third, employees need opportunities to grow their skills and advance in the organization. Finally, one specific practice will not motivate every employee. A leader needs to be flexible enough to find and deliver opportunities and activities that motivate employees with differing needs.
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
After earning a degree in economics, I started my professional life after college in the private sector with an employee benefits consulting company. After working there for a couple of years it was clear that to be fulfilled in my work, I needed to find a profession that afforded more opportunities to serve in a way that supported the growth and development of youth. I moved into the teaching profession and through the years moved up into the leadership ranks. Working at the ESD is my dream job, combining my passion for helping students with my background in business.
How do you measure success in your workplace?
For ESD 123, success in the workplace is primarily measured by how successful we are in supporting the work of our regional school districts. If we are offering high quality services that help school districts reach their goals, then we are fulfilling our mission as an organization. To achieve this goal, we must have a work culture that supports great work, so the health of our work culture is another primary measure of our success.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
I strive to be a collaborative leader, to build the culture and organizational systems that allow employees to do their best work in a supportive work environment. I also am a firm believer in “management by walking around,” meaning that a leader has to be where the work is happening in order to have the information to make the right decisions. You cannot lead from staying behind the doors of your office, and knowing and appreciating those in the organization and those you serve is vital if you are going to lead an organization in the right direction.
How do you balance work and family life?
Most of the leaders I know struggle with balance of home and work. I have struggled with this balance all my professional career and have not given my family as much time and attention as I should have at times. My current practice is much better, and I encourage this balance in those I lead by making sure that the organization supports family life in our policies, procedures and communication with staff. I also make a point to discuss this balance on a periodic basis with those I directly supervise. I want it to be crystal clear that I support this balance, and encouraging it in others helps me to change my own behavior in a positive manner. I also have an incredibly supportive wife who helps me keep a good balance.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
Before becoming an empty nester, much of my time at home was spent following the activities of our four children. Now, as I wait patiently for grandchildren to do the same with, I spend free time reading, gardening, visiting family, and taking daily walks or bike rides with my wife.
We also greatly enjoy the many opportunities to dine out and sample the local wines in the Tri-City region.
What’s your best time management strategy?
My best time management strategy is to use a calendar system like Outlook to schedule each day. This allows me to make short- and long-term plans, schedule reminders, and keep easy-to-access notes in one system. It also allows my administrative assistant to have immediate access to my schedule, which makes it easier for the assistant to provide the support I need to be more efficient.
Best tip to relieve stress?
I have struggled with stress all my work life and one of the best strategies I have ever found to relieve stress and keep a proper perspective in life is to start each day thinking about or writing down at least three things for which I am grateful. Focusing on gratitude each day helps me to put the things in my life that cause me stress in a proper perspective and provides relief. Even though life can be very difficult, I have so much to be grateful for with my job, family, friends, community and country.
What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book series of all time is “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it for the first time as a young teen and have read the books many times over. I love the world Tolkien has created, the depth of the characters, the incredible use of language, a compelling story and powerful moral themes. I still remember the first time reading the series and staying up to 3 in the morning several days in a row because the story was so captivating!
Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?
One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” I love how it so strongly emphasizes how important it is to have your actions match your words.
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