Kelly Shea knew by the time he was a teenager that he’d work in education.
In a bit of a homecoming for the 51-year-old who grew up in Spokane Valley, Shea began his new post July 1 as East Valley School District superintendent. “I made a conscious decision when I was 16 years old that I wanted to be a teacher, because of the coaches and teachers I had,” Shea said. “They had expectations for me.”
Shea graduated from Central Valley High in 1982 and went on to Whitworth College for his education degree. He then worked as a teacher and administrator in Spokane-area districts, before moving across the state to serve three years as Sequim School District superintendent.
At East Valley, Shea oversees daily operations for the district’s eight schools, 480 employees, and about $51 million annual budget. An enrollment of 3,900 students is expected the first day of school Wednesday.
In his first weeks, Shea said he’s mainly focused on meeting people and hearing different perspectives.
“My job is to figure out where we as a district want to go, what is the collective vision and what do we want to accomplish; it’s not about me,” he said.
Shea enters the job after turbulent years of declining enrollment, board turnover, and controversy over adopting a K-8 system that was later scuttled.
Superintendent John Glenewinkel agreed to leave in February 2014 after voters swept in three new board members in fall 2013. Two remaining members later resigned their posts, so the board’s five representatives are all relatively new members: Justin Voelker, Fred Helms, Mike Novakovich, Todd Weger and Laura Gates.
In spring 2014, board members voted to dismantle the K-8 system by the following school year and reopen the closed East Valley Middle School, which resumed seventh- and eighth-grade classes last fall.
During this time, Tom Gresch, the assistant superintendent of general services, served as the district’s interim superintendent. Brian Aiken is the district’s assistant superintendent of operations.
“What I’m gathering is it was divisive,” Shea said. “We need time to heal.”
“Right now, we have to get stability at the top, some continuity,” he added. “Then there’s the day-to-day operations. We have to get schools up and open. We’re laying out new reading materials for K-5. We have the budget process.”
Shea credits his journey in education to his teachers who were role models, including those at CV who encouraged him to go to Whitworth, where he also played football.
“Both my parents are high school dropouts,” Shea said. “My mom was 16 years old when she had me; we didn’t have a lot, but I had two great parents and a mom who sacrificed everything for me.”
Shea was born in Spokane but then his family moved soon after to Oklahoma before returning, when he was 5. He spent school years at Ness, University and Otis Orchards elementary schools, then Greenacres Junior High and CV, where he also joined the Associated Student Body group.
“I loved going to school,” he recalled. “I had great teachers all the way through. Dave Bell (CVHS history teacher) said, ‘You have to go to college.’ ”
His early career spanned 11 years teaching in grades 3 to 6 for Spokane Public Schools. He headed to Mead as principal of Meadow Ridge Elementary for five years, and then Shiloh Hills for a year. He also served three years as principal at McDonald Elementary, before returning to Mead as an administrator.
For the Mead district, he worked as executive director of human services and labor relations.
That job allowed him to gain more administration experience before seeking a superintendent job. He also wanted time for family: wife Mary; son, Keegan, 23; and daughter McKenzie, 21. Both his children were active in school and sports.
“I wanted to make sure I could go to their games,” he said. When his daughter neared graduation, the Sequim job opened.
“It’s a gorgeous place,” he said. “Sequim only has about 2,800 students, so East Valley’s a little bigger.”
Family ties drew them back, however. His grandmother, mother, and brothers all live here. His mother is now cancer-free after a scare in 2014, he said.
“It was tough not being here. Mary and I decided the first opportunity to go home, we’d take it.”
He described also being drawn to the district because of educational positives he saw, and its size.
“This fits my personality and style. I like the smaller district. I like being out in the buildings and getting to know people.”
Among positives, he said EVSD is proactive with educational choices that meet students’ needs.
“When we look at kids, when has the traditional high school model worked for everyone?” he said. “East Valley has forged ahead offering different options.”
Those options include two online learning programs, a project-based program called InTec, and the Washington Academy of Arts and Technology.
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