He’s been a pipefitter, an electrician, a firefighter and a teacher. Now Gene Sementi, 53, will be the next superintendent of West Valley Schools.
Sementi grew up just outside of Pittsburgh. When he was a junior in high school, his father moved the family to Kennewick to take a job at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. When the younger Sementi graduated from high school, he worked there as well, working with the pipefitters.
He knew he wanted to go to college, but couldn’t afford it. He joined the Navy and served aboard the USS Enterprise as a welder and electrician. He also worked as a fireman on the ship.
“I loved the Navy,” he said.
During that time, he got married and had children. Of his six years in the Navy, he spent the last two at sea and missed his home and family.
When he left the Navy, he went to college, working as an electrician during school months and as an electrical inspector at nuclear power plants all over the country during the summer.
Sementi always loved being in school – he still loves to learn new things and describes himself as a very curious person. He had teachers and coaches who inspired him while he was growing up and decided to go into education.
Not only did Sementi hold many different jobs in life, he’s held many different jobs at West Valley.
After teaching for two years in St. Maries, Sementi was hired to teach math, science and some physical education at Centennial Middle School in West Valley. He also coached football at the high school and basketball at the middle school.
It was during this time he studied in a graduate program in school administration at the University of Idaho. After three years at Centennial, he moved to the high school and taught math. He then went back to Centennial as an assistant principal. After five years, he wanted to be a principal and asked then-Superintendent Dave Smith to write him a letter of recommendation. After a few days, he called Smith’s secretary and asked if the letter was ready, but it wasn’t. Smith wanted to talk to Sementi in person.
“He said, ‘I have a lot of faith in you as a leader,’ ” Sementi remembered. He became the principal at Orchard Center Elementary. In two years, he was principal at Centennial. After four years, he was the principal at West Valley High School.
Sementi said many of his students traveled with him through these schools.
“You started out as my elementary principal and moved with me to the middle school and were at the high school with me,” board member Samuel Andrews told Sementi after the board approved his contract.
He’s been assistant superintendent at West Valley for seven years, since current Superintendent Polly Crowley took the top spot with the district.
“Polly’s been fabulous to work with,” he said.
He said he is very excited to start his new duties, but doesn’t expect much to change in the district under his leadership.
“The reality is, what exists here now has my fingerprints all over it,” he said, citing the district’s work on its strategic plan in recent months.
He said with the change in leadership, he and the board took the opportunity to re-evaluate the salary structure of the top three positions in the district. Sementi said he would be making about 25 percent less than Crowley makes now – in 2010-’11 her total compensation including bonuses, stipends, and insurance was $211,711.
The top three positions, superintendent, deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent, total, will be making about 15 percent less next school year.
“It’s something I was concerned about, as the board was,” Sementi said.
Sementi said in his free time, he likes to run triathlons. In the past three years, he’s competed in four or five a year. His wife, Mary, has been with West Valley for 30 years and now teaches at Orchard Center Elementary School. He has three children, Josh, 33, Olivia, 31 and Amy, 29.
Spending time with his grandchildren is very important to him. He has six of them right now – five girls and a boy, and another on the way.
Working in West Valley has always been special to Sementi. He said the district almost feels like a rural school district – teachers spend their entire careers there and many generations of the same family attend the schools.
“There’s a real sense of community,” he said.