Leavell is the obvious choice of Bremerton school community

A full house greeted the Bremerton School District Board of Education last Thursday when the board hosted a special meeting to receive public input regarding the replacement of former superintendent Lester “Flip” Herndon. But by Wednesday of this week, the board had not yet made a decision on how to proceed with filling the position.

With almost every seat filled, board members were surprised by the turnout.

Audience members were asked to turn in a request to speak before they could proceed to the lectern.

“We definitely want to hear from the public,” board president Carolynn Perkins said in her opening statements. “We are going to be here to listen … we are not here to answer questions or enter into dialogue.”

Dr. Aaron Leavell sat in the superintendent seat, a spot that many believe he fits perfectly. Leavell is currently serving as acting superintendent until the board takes action, said Patty Glaser, community relations coordinator for the Bremerton School District.

Leavell returned to the Bremerton School District last July as assistant superintendent after being away for three years as the North Kitsap School District’s secondary education director. He started in the Bremerton School District originally in 1997 as a high school teacher, athletic coach and ASB advisor.

In 2008-2009, the Association of Washington School Principals voted him as “Principal of the Year” where he was recognized statewide and in Washington, D.C. for the achievement.

Tina Mahaney, the president of the Bremerton Education Association, made it clear that she knows the district had difficulty in the past when it came to selecting a superintendent.

“We’ve been at this crossroads before,” Mahaney said, noting that the path chosen would greatly impact the district and its students.

“We want our superintendent to be deeply rooted in our community,” she said. Mahaney noted that Leavell was not afraid to work with union leadership or to help teachers grow professionally.

Only one Bremerton resident disagreed, stating that Leavell is far from the perfect candidate. Michael Williams, a 47-year Bremerton resident, claimed that the school board finally learned some transparency techniques when it came to selecting a new superintendent, unlike previous searches. Williams also announced his candidacy for the role.

More than a dozen audience members spoke, ranging from parents to educators who have witnessed first-hand what kind of work Leavell is capable of in an administrative position, including Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent.

As a resident, parent and grandparent, Lent said she has an active interest in seeing who takes on Herndon’s former role.

“Dr. Leavell is a fourth generation (Bremerton) family,” said Lent. “I totally support his credential, his skills and the future we have ahead with his leadership.”

Former Bremerton High School Principal Marilee Hansen worked with Leavell on several occasions, and said she knew he would travel to see students participating in special events or ceremonies in his time off, and that he’s gone across the state at times to do so.

“I could tell he was a person who really cared about kids,” she said. “He is just an outstanding young man.”

Like others, Hansen begged the board not to continue a lengthy search for the position.

“Don’t waste a penny,” she said. “Let’s look for an assistant superintendent.”

Others, like parent Vicki Collins, clearly and loudly stated her opinion on electing Leavell to the superintendent position.

Collins said that a search for a superintendent elsewhere would be “fiscally irresponsible” when the ideal person for the job is already working inside the district.

“He’s right for the promotion,” she said. “Please don’t let this opportunity pass you by.”

A search for a superintendent costs anywhere from $20,000 to $85,000, Leavell said, referring to his past experience in other districts. The cost varies greatly depending on what the school board does, he said. This would be the first time Leavell has served in a superintendent capacity if he is selected for the position.

Board member, Ken Watkins, alluded to the fact that the board may have already considered Leavell the right fit for the job.

“I actually love this process,” he said of the superintendent search. “It reaffirms something we thought of or considered at one point.”

Board member Dave Boynton made it easy for fellow board members to see the overall consensus of the room by asking a simple question. Boynton asked the audience members who wanted Leavell in the superintendent position to stand up from their seats.

The answer was evident, even for those who chose not to speak: almost every person in attendance stood up.

After the meeting, Leavell stuck around to visit with attendees and answer questions. When asked if he would happily take the job, he admitted his excitement for the possibility of a new role.

“I absolutely would love the job,” he said. Leavell also said he was very surprised by all the endorsements. “It’s a good, awkward feeling, of course.”


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