Kelly Raymond arrived in Ashland last week with a head full of possibilities and an equally packed itinerary. On the docket for March 8: a tour of Ashland’s schools; a 30-minute community forum, with Raymond front and center; and finally, an hour-long interview with the School Board.
At the time, the daylong audition was only the first of two penciled into Raymond’s weekly planner, but by the time she said goodbye to the Ashland School Board members that night the other superintendent position for which she had been named a finalist, in Aberdeen, Washington, was no longer on her wish list.
Raymond pulled her name out of the running for that job and did not attend a similar all-day tour there Thursday. To the Australian native, interviewing for another job at that point would have served no purpose.
“After visiting Ashland and meeting the staff and students and then the community forum, it just felt like the place where I wanted to be,” she said.
Raymond, 47, was officially offered the job as Ashland’s next superintendent via a phone call from School Board Chairman Jim Westrick Friday and accepted immediately. She’ll take over for interim Superintendent Suzanne Cusick on July 1. According to Westrick, Raymond signed a three-year contract that includes an annual salary of $155,000.
“I’m very excited and honored,” said Raymond, currently the executive director for instructional leadership in the Highline School District in Burien, Washington. “I had done my research. I wouldn’t have applied to the district unless I was committed, and it just felt like the right fit.”
That feeling was mutual, according to Westrick.
“We were just so impressed,” he said. “She has a very clear educational vision and she has such a breadth of experience in different areas, at all levels of K-12. And that’s a big plus here as well. We had a whole host of questions for (the finalists), and she kept nailing one after another, and she had an incredible student-first lens about everything.”
Raymond, who spent 11 years as a science and English teacher in Australia and Japan, said Ashland’s commitment to quality education that goes beyond test-taking was attractive to her, as was the district’s potential for expanding its partnership with Southern Oregon University.
“What drew me to Ashland was I think really the vibrant and engaged community in the schools, and its whole child approach,” she said. “Other (districts) are using the whole child approach, but Ashland has won awards for that. When I was a young teacher in Australia … we talked about the holistic approach of educating a student, so that philosophy has always been with me as an educator.”
Highline School District partners with the University of Washington, Raymond added, and she sees the Ashland School District’s connection with Southern Oregon University in similar terms. She also was impressed with Ashland’s focus on art and STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.
“There’s a wonderful art program throughout the schools, including elementary, that’s integrated and that’s something that really appealed to me,” she said.
“I think, also, the lifestyle is fantastic with all the opportunities you have for adventure in Ashland.”
It probably didn’t hurt that Raymond’s a lover of theater, and while in town she caught the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s presentation of “Julius Caesar” and the high school’s production of “Sweeney Todd.”
“That was an amazing production and I was blown away,” Raymond said of “Sweeney Todd.”
Though Raymond’s official first day on the job is still more than three months away, she’s planning to take part in a “listening and learning tour” in the near future. She’s targeted spring break week, March 27-31, as a possibility, but nothing had been finalized as of Tuesday.
The goal, she said, is to learn as much as she can about the district and its staff before July 1.
“So I will be going out into the community, seeing what the needs are, what the successes are and then what the challenges may be and what we could do, next step,” she said. “Until I really do that, I won’t know in depth all the challenges.”
Raymond also hopes to be in town for the high school’s graduation day.
As for her philosophy regarding the role of a superintendent, Raymond described a bridge-building approach.
“I think as the chief education officer, it’s how you manage,” she said. “The board governs and the superintendent manages the how, and that would be making sure the district’s fiscally sound, that we’re following policies and procedures, that I’m out connecting with the community, that I’m visible and accessible and building partnerships all the time. And just really making sure that I know people well by name and their strengths, and then what their needs are and how I can support them as a whole system with the team.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.