Rick Schulte said he didn't come to the Richland School District to rock the boat.
The new superintendent, on the job since July 1, said the Richland School Board didn't hire him to drastically alter how the district works. Student test scores are high, the district's graduation rate is above the state average and various programs, serving students in preschool up to high school, are successful.
"The message was continuity," he said.
But continuity doesn't mean complacency, he said.
Schulte wants to see more emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education. Student writing skills need to improve and Fran Rish Stadium at Richland High needs extensive renovation, even as the district spends a portion of a $98 million bond on improvements. The bond also is paying for new schools.
Education is always evolving and this is how Schulte said he, along with teachers, students and community members, will make a lasting mark on the district.
"There's a lot of good things happening, but there's also space for change," he said.
Schulte replaced former superintendent Jim Busey, whom the board fired in mid-January for conducting an inappropriate relationship with a district employee, among other allegations. Busey is suing the district for wrongful termination.
The new superintendent said Busey's departure hasn't come up much in conversations with community members. Rather, there are questions about what lies ahead with district facilities and academics.
"People have asked a lot about (the bond)," Schulte said. "Specifically, when it comes to their child's school."
Along with several new and renovated school buildings, the bond is paying for safety improvements at the district stadium. But Schulte said a tour he took demonstrated the need for more work.
Locker rooms beneath the home bleachers have water damage from years of rain falling on the seats above and soaking through. In a letter to the board, he said other sports such as soccer, field hockey and lacrosse may also need to use the facility in the future
Schulte said any work at Fran Rish beyond the bond will be a long-term project, but the community takes pride in its school athletes and needs a well-appointed facility.
"The community and the district need to step up on this," the superintendent said.
Implementation of the Common Core State Standards presents a more immediate issue for Schulte. The standards, which are math and language arts standards being adopted in most states, also will require students to take new standardized tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year. The district has prepared for the new standards for several years.
Schulte said one of the biggest benefits of the new standards will be increased emphasis on writing skills, which he said doesn't get as much attention as it should.
"Being a highly skilled writer is one of the best skills someone should have," he said. "Every career utilizes it."
STEM education, though, is getting a lot of attention and needs more, Schulte said. Delta High School, the STEM school cooperatively operated by the Richland, Pasco and Kennewick school districts, needs to continue.
Many Richland schools already have STEM embedded in their curriculum, Schulte said he learned after meeting with principals, though those efforts haven't been in the spotlight. Some of the district's recent graduates have gone on to study in elite college programs in STEM fields.
But more STEM education is needed, Schulte said. STEM careers are among the highest paying in the world today and many family-wage jobs, such as mechanics, machinists and industrial designers, need that skill set. School board Chairman Rick Jansons recently suggested the district look at magnet schools this coming school year and Schulte said that could be where the district brings in more STEM.
"It needs to be a strong emphasis at all levels," he said.
However, Schulte doesn't plan to be the agent of change. He said he'll rely on people within and outside the district to bring about changes, recommendations and improvements. That's how, he said, districts change for the best.
"That creativity is really at the heart of what makes really great education," Schulte said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver