Camas, WA — Several days ago, Dr. Jeff Snell, Superintendent of Camas School District, announced he accepted an offer to lead Vancouver Schools. Snell answered several questions about his tenure and what to expect going forward.
Question: When will you start your new job as Vancouver Schools Superintendent?
Answer: July 1.
Question: What appeals to you about Vancouver Schools?
Answer: I started my career there, and spent 15 years and when you’re in a relationship business and you spend that much time with people those relationships don’t go away. There’s work that I still want to be a part of. There are things we can do better on behalf of students. I’ve been very fortunate in Camas to learn about all aspects of an organization and that happens when you’re in a smaller district so I’m excited to apply that learning. People reached out and said I’d be a good fit there in Vancouver and I’m humbled to have this opportunity. It was the right time to consider something, and it’s been a whirlwind and also bittersweet. I love Camas and I love this community.
Question: What are some of the challenges you will face at Vancouver Schools?
Answer: Similar challenges as we deal with the pandemic. The way we’ve served students has had to change so dramatically and there have been challenges for kids, staff, and families. All schools want every kid to be successful so the challenges are similar to what we face in Camas. How do we empower staff to create conditions for students to be excited about learning and be their best? So pandemic response is priority number one.
Some other priorities I identified in the selection process and what they shared with me is they want a more collaborative culture and a focus on student equity.
Question: What do you mean by student equity?
Student equity means that we shouldn’t be able to predict a student’s success based on their race, gender or economic/social status. It’s about the opportunities we create. Our society needs every child ready to contribute as young adults.
For me, I really try to start and stop with student voice. Ask students what is working for them, what’s not working for them. In Camas, we’ve done a lot of that. That empowers a community so I’d like to continue that practice moving forward.
Question: When did you begin your tenure as Camas Superintendent?
Question: How long were you Assistant Superintendent?
Question: You’ve dealt with heavy issues like the teacher’s strike, the Liza Sejkora situation, and a yearlong pandemic. What’s been your legacy at CSD? What have you learned?
Answer: I learned that you need a great school board that’s really committed to the community, that doesn’t have an ego, and wants the best for the children and families they serve. We are blessed in Camas to have a school board that has consistently been that way. They focus on how we best raise our children in this community. We have gone through many crises. This last year has been significant for everyone. Consistent leadership from a school board is critical and we’ve been fortunate to have it in Camas for a long time. I know this year has been hard for people. I really challenge people to appreciate their school board; they really want what is best for everyone and volunteer as leaders.
We have a really talented staff in Camas and I have been so fortunate to work with these amazing people for 10 years. They’ve done so many great things for kids. I am grateful to a community that supports its schools and rallies around each other. I’m grateful to our amazing students. I learn something from them every day. I’m proud of being able to be a part of this district.
Question: What’s it been like to work with parents and all their concerns?
Answer: Why are people passionate about this issue about our pandemic response? They love their family. They want what’s best for their students. They care about each other. They want to be safe. These core values have sometimes come in conflict during the pandemic because we can’t adequately address them all at the same time. I’ve had to sacrifice some relationships with people because my family wellbeing has been a priority, and I know others have had to make these really difficult decisions in working through their core values of safety, friendship, and family. Regarding stakeholders that are frustrated or upset about the decisions our district has made, I’m grateful they trust me enough to be honest with me and share their concerns. I think about why the reason for why they share with me and it is because they love their kids; they love their spouse and want their spouse to be safe at work. They want the best for their kids and their families. When you are genuine about that people know. The majority of people are appreciative of that. We may not always agree on whatever the next step is, but we do have common ground about the care we have for our families, community and hopefully each other.
Question: What’s happening with getting vaccines to Camas teachers?
Answer: It’s a really good situation now, as the Governor’s proclamation is making this a priority and community health providers have been amazing. We think we will have everyone who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated by spring break.
Question: Given the decreased enrollment, issues parents have with so many teachers, and the curricula, is public education in a free fall? Or is this a bump in the road?
Answer: Our student enrollment has been very consistent over a long period of time (Enrollment data). With that consistency in mind, what might be causes for a drop in enrollment this year? I think the natural conclusion is the impact of the pandemic. Our world has changed pretty dramatically in a lot of different ways including public education. Bumpy moments like navigating pandemics create great opportunities to innovate for the future. I believe public education will be stronger on the other side of the pandemic.
Question: What are the priorities of the next CSD administration? How will the next Superintendent be selected?
Answer: Those are questions that our school board will be working towards in the coming months. We have been working towards a strategic plan for 2025 which the Citizen Advisory Committee spent the last several years drafting and the board has reviewed several times this year. There is still some fine tuning needed as the district moves forward.