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Always work in progress

After seven years as superintendent of the West Valley School District, Polly Crowley is stepping down. She visits with Orchard Center Elementary School Principal Travis Peterson on Tuesday in Spokane Valley. (Dan Pelle)
After seven years as superintendent of the West Valley School District, Polly Crowley is stepping down. She visits with Orchard Center Elementary School Principal Travis Peterson on Tuesday in Spokane Valley. (Dan Pelle)

West Valley schools’ Polly Crowley retiring from top spot in June

Polly Crowley, 65, almost didn’t work in education at all. She went to college thinking she would become something much different.

“Actually, for a while I thought I was going to be a dietitian,” she said. “I was thinking I might go that direction just because it sounded cool to do a residency in a hospital and do some of the things they do to get that training.”

While a freshman in a college chemistry class, she changed her mind. Her mother was a teacher and she decided to follow in her footsteps.

Now, after seven years as superintendent of the West Valley School District, Crowley has decided to retire. Her last day will be June 30.

She taught home economics for many years, and worked at Spokane Falls Community College and North Idaho College, teaching adult vocational classes while her children were small. She could be a stay-at-home mother during the day and her husband watched the children while she taught night classes.

But when her youngest entered the third grade, she wanted to get onto their schedule. She had been substitute teaching in Post Falls when her principal approached Crowley about trying something different.

“Well, could you get your math endorsement?” he asked her. “I wanted a job, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll get my math endorsement.’ ”

In 1995, she made her way to the West Valley School District, starting out as assistant principal at West Valley High School. She stayed there for four years before becoming the district’s assistant superintendent. In January 2005, she stepped into the role of superintendent.

There have been many changes in the district under her leadership, notably the district’s commitment to alternative learning for students who may not thrive in a traditional high school setting.

While alternative learning has always been a part of West Valley, its programs were growing larger and the need for a new building presented itself.

The district had its eye on a building in Millwood and was getting ready to make an offer for it, but the district was trying to pass a levy.

“I think that must have been right about 2006, and we ran a levy and failed it the first time,” she said. So the district put all its time and energy into running the levy again. It passed and the building was off the market by then. They looked at other buildings, keeping in mind where the bus lines run, since many alternative students rely on public transportation.

The building the district chose is on Sprague Avenue and University Road, where Contract Based Education is located now. Although the location is in the Central Valley School District, West Valley manages the program and staffs it. The school only uses part of the building and Crowley said the district has been hoping for something similar to move in.

Central Valley is making plans to move a Valley branch of the Skills Center into the building, which will offer classes to students throughout the area.

“These conversations I hate to move on from, but I think in education, there always are things that are going to be just on the brink of ‘Here’s the next thing we’re going to do and it’s going to be a great thing for kids and provide opportunities,’ ” she said. “I don’t think there ever is that perfect point to say, ‘OK, it’s all tidy, it’s all neat, now I’m moving on.’ ”

She said in her role in the district office, she has always made a point of visiting the schools and seeing how the students are learning.

“As we bring on (every new teacher), I say to them, don’t freak out when I walk in your classroom. You don’t need to stop what you’re doing and you don’t need to introduce me. I’m going to sit down by some kids and quietly look over their shoulder or visit with them for a few minutes.”

She said the visits really show her the reality of the classroom and how hard her teachers are working to keep students engaged.

At 65, Crowley said many of her friends have retired, as has her husband, Tom, a former superintendent himself.

She and her husband have three children, Lora Jackson, an assistant principal at North Pines Middle School; Craig Crowley, a principal engineer at DCI Engineers in Spokane; and Peter Crowley, a teacher and volleyball coach in Genesee, Idaho. She also has seven grandchildren she is looking forward to spending time with after she retires.

She plans to do some traveling, first to the Grand Canyon or maybe Mount Rushmore. She wants to spend time at the lake during a work week, when the lake is quiet. She wants to enjoy a cup of coffee on her deck in the morning.

Crowley said she is going to miss the pride the community has in West Valley schools. She said it’s not just the teachers and students who have that pride, but everyone including the custodial staff who works very hard to maintain the buildings and keep them looking nice.

“They’re really proud of what they do, and they go beyond just of their own accord,” she said.

As a superintendent, Crowley has long work days and works on the weekends, too. Her time for herself and her family has fallen into the margins between her working hours; she said she is looking forward to slowing down her pace.

“(I look forward to) some of those little simple pleasures of just, ‘Wow. What’s it going to be like to be able to choose and not just fit it in around everything else.’ ”