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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Central Valley hopes to name superintendent from four finalists this week

The Central Valley School District hopes to hire a new superintendent by the end of this week after interviews with four finalists.

“That’s what our hope is,” CVSD Board President Cynthia McMullen said Friday. “We have four high-quality candidates, and we hope that by the end of the week we will have a new superintendent.”

The finalists are Tavis Peterson, assistant superintendent at the Wapato, Washington, school district; Troy Tornow, assistant superintendent at Educational Service District in southeastern Washington; John Parker, director of innovation at Colegio Nuevo Granada International School in Bogota, Colombia; and Oscar Harris, chief family and community engagement officer at Spokane Public Schools.

The four finalists will be interviewed in that order, beginning with Peterson on Monday. During daylong visits, they will meet with school officials, student leaders, staff groups and community members.

At the end of each day, the candidate will have a final interview with the board in an executive session, followed by an informal gathering for dinner.

“All four of these superintendent candidates are exceptional educational leaders who we believe understand Central Valley’s community culture and will lead our district with integrity and strength,” McMullen said.

The board is expected to make a final decision this weekend on the replacement for Ben Small, who announced in January that he is retiring after leading the district since 2008.

Small’s last day will be June 30, with the new superintendent taking over the following day.

During a special meeting on Thursday night, the board tentatively approved a base salary of $234,272 for the new superintendent. Small’s base salary was $205,739 in 2019-20, the last year for which records were immediately available.

With an enrollment of more than 14,000, Central Valley is the second-largest district in Spokane County. It has a budget of more than $252 million and has 30 schools.

But even with an ample timeline and the aid of a regional search firm, Northwest Leadership Associates, the position attracted only four candidates. The reasons are unclear, though the district dealt with more than its share of controversy over mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a meeting on March 29, board members expressed disappointment at the low level of interest in the position.

Gene Sementi, an associate with Northwest Leadership Associates and former West Valley School District superintendent, acknowledged at the time that “it’s not as deep of a pool as we would have liked.”

On March 29, he said, “There are some good candidates in there.”

At that meeting, the board originally planned to interview only two candidates, but directed Sementi to continue recruiting in the meantime.

However, on Tuesday, the district announced that all four applicants would be considered as finalists.

Peterson worked as a counselor in the Union Gap School District from 2000 to 2006, when he was hired as vice principal at Chief Kamiakin Elementary School in Sunnyside, Washington.

In 2011, Peterson moved to the same position at Outlook Elementary School, also in the Sunnyside district. One year later, he moved to nearby Wapato to become principal at Adams Elementary.

In 2016, he moved to the district office, serving as executive assistant of educational technology.

Tornow has served since 2016 at ESD 123, which is based in Pasco. Prior to that, he worked for six years in the Selah School District, where he is one of three finalists to be its next superintendent.

Tornow served from 2008-10 as assistant principal at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Washington.

In 2010, he moved to Selah to take over as principal at the high school. Two years later, he moved to the central office, working as executive director of teaching and learning and later as assistant superintendent at the district of 3,900 students located north of Yakima.

Parker has spent most of his career in the 23,500-student Puyallup School District in Western Washington. He began there in 2006 as an instructional coach in science. Three years later, he worked in special services, supporting Title 1 and the Learning Assistance Program.

From 2010 -13, Parker was the director of Instructional Leadership for K-12 math and science. For the next two years he was Puyallup’s director of instructional leadership, specializing in technology integration. From 2015 -19, Parker served as an area superintendent with responsibility for about 8,000 students.

In 2019, Parker moved to Bogota, Colombia, where he works as director of innovation at an international school, Colegio Nueva Granada.

Harris is the only candidate with experience in the Spokane area, with almost seven years at Spokane Public Schools.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Eastern Washington University, he received a doctorate in education in 2019 from Concordia University in Portland.

Harris worked from 2015 to 2017 as the district’s student support services coordinator. Since 2017, he has worked in the district’s Office of Family and Community Engagement, the last 18 months in charge of the department.

In that capacity, Harris oversees the district’s strategies to reach out to families and community organizations to help facilitate better communication and relationships with stakeholders.