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Retiring chancellor has advice for kids, community

Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Gary Livingston stands outside his office July 15. (Jesse Tinsley)
Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Gary Livingston stands outside his office July 15. (Jesse Tinsley)

Gary Livingston, 62, retires next month after eight years as chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane. He also was superintendent of Spokane Public Schools from 1993 to 2001. On many area boards, he’s one of the community’s most vocal advocates for education. He grew up in Kansas and taught special-education classes before moving into administration.

Q. You grew up as the oldest of seven kids. How did that shape you?

A. With that many kids you were responsible for contributing (to the family). I started working in middle school. I’ve always worked, mowing lawns and throwing newspapers.

Q. What advice do you have for people leaving college or high school, looking for work?

A. I always tell kids to look at their interests. What are your hobbies, and is there a way to take that into the workplace and see if there isn’t a way to put that into what you do? I tell them, think about it. Don’t just go to work.

Q. How well is the school system here addressing the needs of the workplace?

A. We’re not encouraging some kids to consider middle-skill technical jobs. We should help young people understand that house builders, mechanics and other technical jobs are great opportunities. … We assume people will find their way into those jobs. What we need is to broaden career awareness and encourage kids to look at things other than just the professions, which only 30 to 35 percent of kids will acquire.

Q. Looking ahead 20 years, what do you want to see happening in this community?

A. We have to recognize the conversation that’s already on the table about getting kids who enter kindergarten ready to learn, with an emphasis on preschool programs. If we do that successfully, we can make a change in the decades-old problem, here and nationally, of students graduating and not being prepared to work.

Q. What needs to happen for that to occur?

A. We have to invest both in the students who are going through now – who didn’t come in ready to learn – and have to do it at a preschool level. So we’ll have to pay twice for a while, to help prepare students better. The (problem of not being ready for school) is a significant reflection of poverty in this area. And candidly, our community is getting poorer, not wealthier.

Q. What one thing have you done that amazes you?

A. I’m not a real adventurous person, in my life. One of my proudest accomplishments is my wife, Amanda, and I raising our son, Nick, who is in New York City. … We’re proud of him. He respects people; he has a good work ethic; he values his education. (Nick Livingston, 29, works for MTV in New York City.)

Q. What irritates you?

A. People who are frustrated and not willing to be part of their own solutions.

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