Vicki Leifer, who first came to the West Valley School District in 2008 as a high school science teacher, took over the job of assistant superintendent of the district on July 1. It puts her in the unique position of having only worked for one school district.
“I have been in the district my entire educational career,” she said. “It’s a fantastic district.”
The road she took to get here is long and included many unexpected turns. As a young girl growing up in Michigan, she always thought she would be a chemist like her mother, who worked for Bayer.
“I would go in on weekends with her,” she said. “I would put on a lab coat and wheel around in her chair. When I was older, she actually made me do experiments.”
She went to the University of Toledo to study chemistry and play softball. “I found out that lonely lab work wasn’t my thing, but I loved science,” she said.
She ended up majoring in exercise science and exercise physiology. Then she came to Spokane to get a master’s degree from Washington State University-Spokane. She didn’t feel the program was a good fit, so transferred to Eastern Washington University because she had fallen in love with the area. She particularly liked how she could drive for 20 minutes and have outdoor recreation opportunities at her fingertips.
“I’m from a small town in the Midwest,” she said. “Spokane has a small-town feel, but big city conveniences.”
It was at EWU that her world shifted. She went there for a master’s degree in sports administration and pedagogy, but the person reviewing her transcripts, which were heavy on science classes, suggested she teach the Biology 100 lab. The job would count as an internship for the first quarter and then be a paid position, so Leifer took the opportunity. It was a life-altering decision.
“I realized then that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I loved the teaching piece.”
She decided to continue in the master’s program, but also started taking classes to earn a bachelor’s degree in education. Then she realized that if she took one more class, she could also earn a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“I just overloaded myself with credits,” she said. “I got two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree at the same time.”
She taught science and a career and technical education class in biomedical science at West Valley High School for five years. She loved the work and hadn’t considered a job in administration until one of her mentors suggested it. “It wasn’t on my mind,” she said.
But she took her mentor’s suggestion and was the dean of students at Dishman Hills High School for two years before becoming the district’s director of career and technical education and professional development. She stayed in that position for four years.
“Any time I have moved positions it has been by suggestion of a mentor,” she said. “West Valley, historically, has a great pattern of mentorship.”
It was former Superintendent Gene Sementi, who retired this year, who suggested she apply for the assistant superintendent position even though she had never been a school principal, Leifer said. Being a school principal is a normal stepping stone for someone who enters the superintendent ranks.
Though she took over the assistant superintendent position while the district was struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Leifer said she’s enjoying the work.
“I like that every day feels a little bit different,” she said. “Being here in the district office with great people to work with and bounce ideas off of has been really great.”
Still, it’s been a challenge trying to balance the health and safety of students and staff with the desire to have in-person classes, she said.
“It’s hard not to see kids in school right now,” she said.
Leifer’s new position is part of a shift in leadership in the district. In July, both Sementi and longtime deputy superintendent Doug Matson retired. Then assistant superintendent Kyle Rydell was promoted to replace Sementi and Leifer took Rydell’s former job.
Leifer said she feels like there are big shoes to fill.
“Dr. Sementi, I don’t know what size shoes he wears, but yes,” she said. “I feel like West Valley is synonymous with their names.”
But everyone has been very supportive of her and Rydell in their new roles, she said.
“The previous administration set us up really nicely to do some good things going forward,” she said. “We don’t feel like we’re starting over. We’re just continuing on.”
Nina Culver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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