Joel Aune sees many similarities between the Richland School District and the Snoqualmie Valley School District, where he is currently superintendent.
Both have high-performing students and strong parental involvement. Each has a significant number of residents working in technology.
The districts also are growing quickly, leading to expansion and building projects.
Aune, a finalist for Richland's open superintendent position, said both districts will also will face challenges because of their changing communities and needs of education. And that's something he welcomes.
"There are some wonderful opportunities when you're a growing school district that you can use in positive ways," he told attendees at one of two public forums Wednesday.
Aune grew up in Eastern Washington, graduating in a high school senior class of 24 students. He has been an educator for 30 years: a teacher in Cashmere, an administrator in Walla Walla and a superintendent in Colfax.
He has spent the past eight years as superintendent in Snoqualmie, a district of about 5,000 students, some the children of Microsoft employees. He said he is happy in that district but that working in Richland appealed to him.
"There are not many jobs in the state that would capture my attention," he said. "This is a premier job."
Aune said Richland will face some of the same challenges as other districts around the state, such as implementation of a new teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards, new language arts and math guidelines.
At the same time, he said Richland will have to face increasing enrollment, leading to new schools and attendance boundaries, as well as a growing population of students in poverty.
There are opportunities in those challenges, Aune said, and the district has to make sure it doesn't become satisfied despite already being a high performer.
"We have to be very careful that we're not content with the status quo," he said.
Aune drew on his experiences in Snoqualmie and Colfax to say he's dealt with similar issues that have come up in Richland. He's worked on a number of bonds -- some that have passed and some that have failed -- and the requisite construction projects. He's redrawn school attendance boundaries four times in the past eight years.
"I've got a bald spot on the back of my head. It's the result of four boundary changes," he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Aune spoke of his support for the arts and co-curricular activities overall, adding that they are crucial for students to stay engaged in their studies. He said there's also student involvement on his district's board of directors -- the students contribute to discussions but cannot vote on decisions.
Schools have to appeal to the needs of both students and families, Aune said. His district has developed an online academy and a parent partnership program to expand the opportunities for students. Next fall, Aune and his staff in Snoqualmie will institute a freshman-only campus at Mount Si High School in order to better serve student needs.
"We better get in the game of providing kids and parents options because that's the 21st century," he said.
Jane LePage, mother of two students at Hanford High School and a member of the school's drama booster club, said she was glad Aune is supportive of the arts.
"I like what I'm hearing about dedication to each student," she told the Herald.
About 30 students attended one of the public meetings and several said they were happy to hear from Aune.
"He came across as nervous at first but as he started to talk about his experiences he came across as very professional," said Matthew McCranie, 17, a Richland High School senior.
Aune was the second candidate to make a public visit. John Steach, superintendent for schools in Canby, Ore., visited Tuesday. The third finalist, Superintendent Rick Schulte of the Oak Harbor School District, visits Thursday.
"I've seen two good candidates," said John Deichman, co-chairman of Richland Citizens for Good Schools. "I hesitate until I see the third one before I make comparisons."
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver
Final public forum
Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District and the third finalist for the Richland School District's superintendent position, will attend two public meetings Thursday.
Schulte is the last finalist to make a public visit to the district. He'll take questions from community leaders during a 4:30 p.m. meeting of the Richland School Board at the district's administrative offices at 615 Snow Ave. That meeting is open to the public.
The general public will be able to pose questions to Schulte during a forum at 7:30 p.m. in the Richland High School library.