Superintendent McSheehy brings new ideas to district
By Mari Kanagy, Co-Content Editor | Oct. 19, 2018
After working in education for 25 years, superintendent Slade McSheehy started his first year at the school district, bringing with him new ideas and changes.
Prior to settling down on the island, McSheehy worked in various positions for other districts, including as a fourth-grade teacher, a school counselor, a middle school principal, and an assistant superintendent.
“It does feel to me that every one of my experiences aligns with me being here,” Mcsheehy said. “All these passions come from my work experience, and they’ve really prepared me quite well for being here on the island.”
Throughout his career, McSheehy transitioned from teaching positions to working in administration. His early beginnings with students both individually and on a more personal level has led McSheehy to better understand how to help students as an administrator.
“I knew how to work with students and student groups so that I always maintained the relationship,” McSheehy said. “You can’t help students if they don’t have a relationship with you.”
Before becoming the superintendent at Vashon, McSheehy worked for the Hockinson School District near Vancouver, Washington. He began as the middle school principal and was later promoted to the role of assistant superintendent. This allowed McSheehy to continue overseeing the students he already knew.
“The high school became the place where I saw all [those] kids really mature, and now they’re walking across the stage, and I’m the one handing them their diploma,” McSheehy said. “So, I never felt like I lost connection with kids.”
As for island students, McSheehy is working to build relationships with them. He has been attending high school sports events and touring classes and lunchrooms at least once a week.
“Getting to know the students here, that just takes time,” McSheehy said.
Newly-appointed superintendents generally don’t at first make significant changes within the district. Instead, they focus initially on getting to know the schools and people now under their administration. However, McSheehy is set on implementing several new projects within the year.
Among these is his plan to start conducting senior exit interviews, in which members of the graduating class give feedback to the district leaders on their entire school experience. This process gives the administration the opportunity to evaluate the district’s strengths, while also identifying points of improvement. The idea was inspired by a friend of his, a fellow superintendent.
“He said, for him and his staff, it has been a transformational experience,” McSheehy said.
McSheehy, along with the rest of the administration, values the role of student voice and input in the running of the school.
McSheehy has already enacted a district system in which two board members will meet with a group of students from one of the three VISD schools. After the meeting, these two board members will report back to the board with the students’ positive feedback and constructive criticism.
“To me, the board — unless they’re in the buildings — [has] the least connection with kids,” McSheehy said.
McSheehy also wants to create a student advisory board to the superintendent before the end of 2018. Each small group will consist of students who directly give him input in order to improve operations within the district.
Feedback from the community has helped influence McSheehy’s understanding of what changes should be made within the district. Many students and families want a better transition between grades — particularly the advances from one school to another school — in the district, which includes better continuity throughout the schools’ curricula and culture. McSheehy plans to achieve this goal by focusing on the district’s mission statement: engage by learning, thrive by loving, and contribute by leading.
“If we provide kids with an environment where they feel like they belong, then they’re really gonna thrive,” McSheehy said.
McSheehy also wants to accomplish goals within the district purposefully, rather than assume that he has met his goals when the end of the school year arrives.
“I have to have some kind of plan and some kind of evidence that students are learning, or that kids feel like they belong,” McSheehy said. “I don’t want to … shoot an arrow and paint a target around it. I have a target right now.”
In addition to the more specific goals, McSheehy and the board have six main initiatives that they are constantly working towards improving: racial equity, special services programs, careers and technical education (CTE) classes, student safety, budget, and communication with the community.
“Each month I give a report to the board on how we’re improving those,” McSheehy said.
McSheehy wants to be especially diligent in helping low-income, racial minority, and special service students.
In the district, 20 percent of students are those that receive free and reduced lunches. McSheehy wants to work towards representing this population proportionally in the classroom. By having better representation for all types of students in classes — especially more challenging courses — it ensures that students, no matter their racial or social background, feel they have the ability to do well in school. Increasing the numbers of these kids in the more rigorous classes lies in changing school culture early on.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that by third grade, kids start sorting themselves: ‘I’m a smarter person, I’m a medium person, or I’m not ever gonna be good at school,’” McSheehy said. “If we can start helping kids see themselves as scholars or as capable of doing high-level work before that, then we can change their whole trajectory.”
McSheehy prioritizes working towards racial equity in schools by giving additional help to underprivileged students or groups that generally need more assistance. He wants to establish that the schools are viewing classes — particularly AP courses — through a “racial equity lens.” This idea ensures that there is diversity within the people and cultures being taught about in classes.
The difficulty, McSheehy has noticed, is in making sure that no families feel as though their students are being underrepresented.
“The hard part in the work with racial equity is that often times, when we start directing more resources, [or] more dollars, towards families or students that need more resources … that is seen as someone getting the short end of the stick,” McSheehy said.
Though McSheehy is a newcomer to the school district, he has found that Vashon’s strengths lie in the students, community, and, most importantly, the staff.
“Whether it be racial equity or student voice or student achievement, they care deeply about their work and the kids here.”