Kennewick’s retiring superintendent says ‘we’ve probably failed’ if students don’t learn this

Dave Bond started teaching before he graduated high school.

He was a teaching assistant in a Vancouver high school in the mid-1970s when his school saw a sudden influx of students from other countries.

The teacher he was working with let him work with those students in a way few high school students get a chance.

“So he gave me real teaching things to do,” Bond said. “I was working with students that spoke little to no English, and my job was to do word cards with them and work with them to help them start to get a basic grasp of the English language.”

That experience — along with the time he spent with the same teacher, who also coached basketball — cemented his future.

“I wanted to be like this guy ... because he’s got a fun job,” Bond recalled. “He gets to coach kids and he gets to teach and this teaching stuff is kind of fun. ... I think a lot of our teachers would have a similar story. They had a teacher that they really admired.”

After 11 years leading Kennewick schools, Bond is leaving a district where more students are able to read, are graduating on time and are safer.

Started in Tri-Cities as a teacher

Bond has spent much of his career in the Tri-Cities, first as an English teacher.

When he first started, the rules weren’t as strict, so while he mostly taught language arts, he also taught algebra and U.S. government, which he said was really fun during election years.

Dave Bond retire1.jpg
Dave Bond, who became the Kennewick School District superintendent in 2008, is retiring in 2020 after more than 30 years working in the Kennewick and Richland School Districts. His successor will work with him during the 2019-20 school year to learn the job. Watch a video at: Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

He found that he could help between 130 and 140 students a year, but after nine years of teaching, he felt he could make a larger impact if he became an assistant principal.

“Really, I enjoyed being assistant principal, but as assistant principal, something the principal will say: ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea, you can run with it.’ But when you’re the principal, if it’s your idea, you can run with it,” he said.

Bond remained as a principal through the late ‘90s and into the 2000s, first at Hanford High School and then moving to Kennewick, where he led Kamiakin High for five years.

Then he found he could help more students if he moved into the district office, where he worked for two years before he was named to take over the top job in the district, replacing Marlis Lindbloom.

Bond is proud of what has been accomplished in the district during his tenure. He is most proud of the efforts the district made in its reading goal.

Each year, the district leaders aim to have 90 percent of the third-graders be to read at their grade level, and they’ve been near that goal in recent years.

“It may be a bit of an overstatement, but I tell people: If a kid gets to 12th grade and we haven’t taught him to read at grade level or nearly grade level, then we’ve probably failed that kid as a student,” he said. “If I can teach a kid to read, he can probably learn anything else he needs to learn.”

Rapid enrollment growth

Some of the other highlights of his tenure include helping lead the district through a period when enrollment grew by about 350 students every year. When he took over the position, the district hadn’t spent much time renovating or building new schools. He helped organize three successful bond elections, including the most recent $125 million bond.

There has also been impressive progress on meeting algebra goals, safety improvements, bringing technology into schools and making the district more financially stable.

What keeps him coming to work each day, though, is the people, who have helped him achieve the accomplishments. Many of his team members have been with him since he moved into the superintendent’s office.

Dave Bond retire2.jpg
Dave Bond, who became the Kennewick School District superintendent in 2008, is retiring in 2020 after more than 30 years working in the Kennewick and Richland School Districts. His successor will work with him during the 2019-20 school year to learn the job. Watch a video at: Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

“We have a great group of people to work with, and I feel like the board has a great structure with strategic plan goals that make a lot of sense for us to work on,” he said. “It’s fun every year to take on the challenge of: Can we get more kids to graduation than we did the year before? Can we get a higher percentage of our students reading at grade level at third grade.”

It’s those people that he will miss the most. He said he’s already missing Greg Fancher, the longtime assistant superintendent of elementary education, and Chuck Lybeck, the associate superintendent of curriculum, both of whom plan to leave at the end of this year.

While he’s moved into the administration building, he keeps in touch with students and teachers. He tries to drop in on a couple of classrooms each week. For the past couple years, he focused on new teachers. He follows up the visit with an email to tell them about the great things they did.

“If you ever need to get your spirits lifted, just go and visit an elementary classroom,” he said. “You get reminded what the whole system is about, and that’s getting those 5-year-olds to the age of 18 with a set of skills that will make them ready to be successful.”

An avid reader, he splits his time between learning more about education and more fun thrillers by the likes of Lee Child and John Sandford.

It’s time to be with family

While he enjoys it, the 62-year-old Bond said he’s ready to spend time with his wife, Carmen, and his three children and three grandchildren.

“I haven’t missed a school board meeting in 11 years, and since those happen a couple times a month most months, that means that I’m really restricted in what I’m able to do in order to be at board meetings,” he said. “I feel like the district is in a good place.”

The search for Bond’s replacement already started, and school officials plan to have someone hired by the end of the school year. Bond will work with the new superintendent to help make the transition a smooth one.

And if he had a final message to students, it would be to remember that learning is a lifelong activity.

“I’ve been learning for the last 44 years, since I got out of high school, and so I hope that you as students will understand that learning goes on throughout life.”

Related stories from Tri-City Herald

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.