Only a few hours after tendering his resignation as West Valley School District superintendent, Gene Sementi was back at work on an icy Thursday morning.
“Four-thirty in the morning, driving the roads to make sure they’re safe,” Sementi said.
Sementi won’t miss that part of the job, or the long hours, but he’ll cherish almost everything else as he nears the end of a 31-year career as a teacher and administrator at West Valley.
“It’s been an absolute blessing for me to serve the West Valley community,” said Sementi, whose resignation was accepted Wednesday night by the school board.
That same night, the board voted unanimously to promote Assistant Superintendent Kyle Rydell to succeed Sementi on July 1.
That seemed to be part of the plan, said Sementi, who said he’d been pondering retirement for a couple of years.
“It didn’t exactly creep up on me,” said Sementi, who has done a lot of everything since joining the district in 1989. He taught and coached at Centennial Middle School and did the same at West Valley High before returning to Centennial as an assistant principal.
“I’ve always been a teacher at heart,” he said.
Sementi also was principal at Orchard Center Elementary – “I loved that job,” Sementi said – before working as principal at Centennial and West Valley.
Assistant superintendent for seven years, Sementi took over the top spot in 2011 at the 3,800-student district. During that time he helped the district take advantage of a Gates Achievers grant that steadily raised the district’s overall graduation rate.
“I’m most proud of our graduation rate because a lot of hard work went into that,” Sementi said. “It’s been a grind – 75% to 80, 82, sometimes as high as 98% – and I’m proud because it took everybody to do that.”
The biggest payoff, Sementi said, is a district-wide mentality among families, “an expectation by parents that their kids will graduate from high school.”
By many accounts, Sementi knows them all, thousands of children who grew up and sent their own kids to West Valley schools.
“When you get the opportunity to walk through the bulildings with Gene, he knows the first names of everyone on the staff and even their kids’ names,” marveled Rydell.
“That’s why I joined the team, to be part of the team that Gene has built,” Rydell said.
Compared with many districts, that team has had a great year.
“But I wanted to make sure I was leaving it in a good place,” said Sementi, who recently guided the district through a difficult fiscal year and shepherded a supplemental levy to approval last month.
“We’ve managed to balance our budget, and we have a solid school board,” Sementi said.
“And we have good leadership in place,” said Sementi with a look toward Rydell, who has spent most of his two decades in education in Spokane Valley.
Rydell graduated from Central Valley High School and was a wrestling coach at Horizon Middle School while he earned his teaching degree at Eastern Washington University in 1997.
“I’ve been at each of the Valley districts and I’m hoping to finish at this district,” Rydell told The Spokesman-Review earlier this year.
After 14 years at East Valley he spent three years as the superintendent in Republic, Washington, and from 2014-19 as superintendent of the Liberty School District in Spangle.
During his career he earned a master’s degree in curriculum and design from Gonzaga University, a principal certification from EWU and a superintendent certificate from Washington State University.
“In the months since he joined the West Valley team, he has quickly forged relationships and earned the trust of parents, district employees and other constituents,” board president Dan Hansen said of Rydell.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.