Wally Stanley rolls into a classroom of first graders and says, “Hi. What are we doing?”
“Cleaning up,” answers Diane Isherwood, the teacher. But some of the kids would rather talk to their visitor.
Confusion really breaks out when the p.a. system blares a message about recess, and kids grab for their coats.
“Sometimes I’m more disruptive than helpful, I know,” comments Stanley, 51.
Central Valley’s acting superintendent wheels himself on to the next classroom. He chats with the teacher and asks three or four kids what they’ve learned that morning, leaning close to catch their answers.
“The next time I come in,” he tells a small girl who’s alone in the corner, “I’m going to ask you what you’ve learned.” She nods, holding her book tightly.
It takes Stanley about an hour to visit every classroom in a school. He tries to tour one of Central Valley’s 21 schools every day.
Another executive might consider this window dressing. For Stanley, it’s the core of his mission: getting out where he can encourage teachers and children in the business of learning.
“I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it,” Stanley said. “Then some kid comes up to me here or at a ball game and says, ‘Mr. Stanley, I saw you in my class.”’
From the start, Stanley’s goals for this interim year in the Central Valley School District were to open communication, foster cooperation and a sense of community in the district, and to see the district’s bond and levy pass.
After the more distant style of former superintendent Dick Sovde, the Central Valley staff is half-starved for Stanley’s kind of sustenance. He is so popular that some principals are rallying behind him for the superintendent’s job. Several principals interviewed praised Stanley in lavish terms: “a wind of change,” “delightful,” “absolutely what the district needs.” Other observers credit him with solidifying the community behind the bond and levy and with being more responsive to the public than his predecessor.
“He’s more genuine. If he says something, then you can believe it,” said parent activist Kathy Miles.
At first, Stanley said, he didn’t want even the interim job.
When the school board approached him last summer, “my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, I have to do this?!”’ he said.
Stanley came to the district in 1967, straight out of Washington State University. He was comfortable in his role as a good soldier, rising through the ranks to assistant superintendent.
Slowly this past fall, he became more comfortable with the superintendent’s job and confident that he has strengths to offer: a sense of perspective on the district’s past and future, credibility, approachability and what he calls realistic leadership.
He is approachable, remarkably so. For kids, that’s partly because in his wheelchair, he’s at their height. Twelve years ago, Stanley was hit by a drunken driver while jogging.
“In a real sense I have had two lives - one before the accident and one after,” he said. “I don’t think about it too much any more.
“There are some assets to being in a wheelchair. With kids, I think it’s kind of a curiousity. It’s easier for them to approach me.”
His work week routinely stretches to 70 or 80 hours.
“I don’t know physically how he does it,” said Central Valley High School principal Paul Sturm. “He is everywhere, all the time.”
Will Wally Stanley turn out to be Central Valley’s next permanent superintendent? That is up to the five school board members. They hope to announce the new superintendent by April 1.
But it’s clear that this year, the Central Valley School District is enjoying a sweet sigh of relief.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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