Ken Russell, superintendent of the Riverside School District north of Spokane, recently earned a Robert J. Handy Most Effective Administrator Award from the c.
Russell said he was nominated for the award by the Riverside school board chair, Brandi Maynard. “It was very nice of her to do that,” Russell said. “It meant a lot to me because I respect Dr. Maynard’s work as the board chair.”
Maynard said Russell is a trusted leader in the district and is the closest thing the community has had to a beloved mayor. “Ken has brought something special to the Riverside School District and I wanted to honor that,” Maynard said of her nomination. “I wanted others to know what he has done.”
Maynard said she does leadership development for school districts across the United States and said Russell is unique.
“Ken is in a class by himself,” she said. “I’m just so proud of him.”
She called Russell a “Pied Piper” who is liked by students, and he’s known to high-five teachers and staff.
“It’s all about relationship,” Maynard said. “That’s what Ken does. He’s authentic. He’s transparent. He’s driven by heart, and we need that in Riverside. People just light up when he’s around.”
Riverside isn’t an official town. There are a few businesses and the school district campus lining U.S. Highway 2.
“There’s few places for people to gather,” Maynard said. “The school is it.”
That makes Russell’s role in the community all the more important, she said.
Russell said the school district often leads the way in the community. “I do really enjoy that part,” he said.
Before his arrival in Riverside three years ago, Russell was the assistant superintendent for learning at the Mead School District for three years, the principal of Mead High School for six years and assistant principal at Mead High School and Ferris High School.
In her nomination, Maynard highlighted Russell’s creation of the “TEAM Riverside” culture to create a positive and engaging environment with the goal of making Riverside the “best rural school district in the region.”
“Dr. Russell has brought confidence back to Riverside,” she wrote. “He has challenged our staff, students, parents and community to replace deficit thinking and low expectations with a strengths-based approach to leadership.”
She also wrote that prior to Russell’s arrival, two levies “failed miserably.” Since his arrival the levy approval rate has nearly hit 70%.
“Never before in Riverside’s history have we received such results on levy or bond measures,” she wrote. “Much of the community support and energy we are experiencing comes from Dr. Russell’s positive, hopeful and engaging leadership style.”
Russell said while good things are happening in the district, it isn’t all about him. “I think the award is more about Riverside as a whole and not about me,” he said.
Every year the Washington Association of School Administrators honors a superintendent, principal or district administrator from a large, medium and small district throughout the state. Riverside was in the medium school district category, and Russell said he was told his work to engage the community factored into the decision.
“They felt like it showed I was making a difference in Riverside,” he said.
The late Robert J. Handy was a school teacher who founded the Seattle Teachers Credit Union in 1936 and sold insurance on the side. In 1948 he created the company that would become PEMCO Insurance and was a lifelong supporter of public education long after he left the classroom. PEMCO helps sponsor the annual awards.
The award Russell received comes with a plaque and about $3,000 in prize money. Russell said he thinks the money has to be used for personal or professional development but wants to explore that further.
“I believe there are some limitations on what you can do with that money,” he said. “If we can use it for the district, that would be great. I would rather do that.”
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