June 25, 2009 in Washington Voices

CV, EV superintendents find satisfying first year on job

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

The Spokane River may divide their school districts’ boundary, but for Superintendents John Glenewinkel, left, of East Valley and Ben Small of Central Valley, both have shared successful transitions after a year on the job.
(Full-size photo)

Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small and East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel have a few things in common. They both have had to deal with state-mandated budget cuts in the last few months, they both started their new jobs a year ago and both attend the same Rotary meetings.

Glenewinkel is known for his skill with a barbecue and a preference for casual clothes, while Small is known for wearing a suit every day. Though their styles differ, they’re both enjoying their new jobs.

“What I say today is, I’m more excited about being here than I was about coming up,” Glenewinkel said. He calls East Valley a diamond in the rough and the best-kept secret in the Valley. “We have incredible teachers, incredible students and amazing community and parental support.”

“I’ve had a great first year as superintendent,” Small said. “The people in Central Valley School District are great to work with.”

This is Glenewinkel’s third superintendent job, spending time in Republic and Ellensburg, before arriving here. He jokes that it takes three stints as superintendent to get it right – the first time you make mistakes, the second time you learn the job and during the third, you apply what you’ve learned. “It’s really difficult for me to compare this job to the other two,” he said.

He took over East Valley after several years of money problems caused friction between the district and the community. “The worst part has been working in a culture where the trust has been damaged and having to be very, very careful that what I say isn’t misinterpreted,” he said. “When you’re building trust, that takes an enormous amount of energy.”

Glenewinkel tries to involve the community. Public hearings were held recently on budget issues and he lists his home phone number on the district’s Web site so anyone can call him.

It seems to be working. Recent comments from board members and the people who have signed up to challenge them in November elections all praise Glenewinkel. The comments help convince Glenewinkel that he’s on the right track, but at the same time he worries.

“For whatever reason, I haven’t made any major mistakes yet,” he said. “And I will make mistakes. I’m hopeful when it happens I’ll still have that support.”

When Small was hired, many questions were raised about how he would transition from the tiny Columbia School District to a much larger district like Central Valley. Small said it hasn’t been an issue at all. “Schools are schools,” he said. “People are people. All school districts are unique. The uniqueness has nothing to do with the size of the school district.”

His old district was little enough that Small knew the name of every student, teacher and staff member. He hasn’t been able to get close to that in his first year at Central Valley. “I think the hardest part of the job has been getting to know individual people,” he said.

Still, Small was impressed with the response of the district and the community during his literal trial by fire only days after he started his new job. The Valley View fire brought in hundreds of firefighters who camped on school property and many volunteers who offered to help. “It made an impression on me then and it still leaves an impression on me now,” he said.

Both struggle with the long days required of a school superintendent, which can run from 10 to 16 hours. Glenewinkel, an avid outdoorsman, has been able to fit in only two hunting trips and hasn’t even bought his fishing license yet. He’s spending most of his free time creating living quarters in a barn that serves as his house on property he bought near East Valley High School. “We thought we’d be done by now,” he laughed. “We will eventually build a house on the property.”

Small said his young family keeps him grounded. His daughter Grace was born in November, and joins big brother Elliot, 4. “My sanity is my family and my kids and enjoying them,” he said.

Despite the long hours both are thoroughly enjoying their jobs. “This is where I would really like to be for the next 10 or 12 years,” Glenewinkel said.

“This has been a great year,” Small said. “I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is a great place to be.”


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