New schools chief praises Freeman’s small-town values

Freeman Schools Superintendent Randy Russell introduces himself to night custodian James Marratt during a visit to the high school last Thursday. He takes the helm of the district on July 1. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Freeman Schools Superintendent Randy Russell introduces himself to night custodian James Marratt during a visit to the high school last Thursday. He takes the helm of the district on July 1. (J. Bart Rayniak)

The Freeman School Board selected a 22-year veteran in education to head up its district in the coming years.

Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Randy Russell, 44, will replace retiring Sergio Hernandez as superintendent when he joins the district July 1.

Russell is a Montana native and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as his principal certification from Whitworth University. He later received his superintendent’s certification and education specialist degree from the University of Idaho.

He taught at Colville, then was the discipline and attendance vice principal at Rogers High School in Spokane. Later, he was the curriculum and instruction vice principal at North Central High School before becoming the principal at Coeur d’Alene. He’s been at that school for five years.

Although he’s sad to leave his current school, he’s excited about Freeman.

“Everybody knows about Freeman’s reputation,” Russell said. “Excellent academics, great support from the community. A small-community feel with big expectations. A lot of kids choice into the school there. The small-town values and the priorities of getting a great education.”

He steps into a school district with a new high school, a new elementary school that will open this fall and a new transportation cooperative on the campus. He knows what a large team effort it took to build those new buildings.

“To me, that’s a huge vote of confidence from the folks there that are saying education is a top priority. Hats off, really. You’ve got a lot of players in that. You’ve got your superintendent, Sergio, who did a phenomenal job. You’ve got a supportive school board. You’ve got a community that values education. You put those together with the staff and the faculty that are there. I mean, who wins? The kids.”

Russell said his first priority will be to get to know the staff, students and community.

“I’ll just go in and learn as much as I can by asking as many questions as I can. I’ll get to know the people. That’s priority number one.”

He said he wants to find out what people think works in the district and what can be improved.

Along with the new job, Russell plans to move his family to the Freeman area. He and his wife Shawna have been married 11 years. They bring along their four children who range in age from 16 to 2 and will attend district schools.

Coeur d’Alene High School serves about 1,400 students and has a staff of about 120. When he moves to Freeman, there are just under 1,000 K-12 students and a staff of about 120 as well.

Russell is proud of the years he’s spent at Coeur d’Alene High School and said it will be tough to leave. He noted the school’s 95 percent graduation rate, a high rate of students attending school beyond high school and successful extracurricular activities – this year was one of the best in school history.

Football and wrestling teams captured state championships. Other state finishes included drama, girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball and boys’ cross country.

But working at Freeman is an exciting opportunity for him, he said, especially after taking a tour of the facilities.

“We were able to go through all of the construction, the middle school, up to the high school,” he said. “We (at Coeur d’Alene) emphasize taking care of our facilities, keeping them clean and being respectful and the kids do a great job. I’m watching how it is at Freeman and it’s the same thing.”

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