MILTON-FREEWATER — As Tuesday’s meeting of the Milton-Freewater Unified School District opened, Superintendent Rob Clark asked for a few moments to announce some personal news.

“I got a call about 10 minutes ago. I have been offered the job as superintendent of the Sequim School District,” he said. “I have accepted it.”

Clark interviewed Monday for the six-school district on the Olympic Penninsula. The position opened with the May 6 resignation of the superintendent there.

Clark will begin his new post July 1.

Milton-Freewater Board Chairman Duane Geyer said after the close of Tuesday’s meeting the board will decide the best option for the district’s immediate future. It’s late in the year for recruiting a new superintendent, he said.

“We’ll look at what we want, and during this coming year we’ll probably have an interim superintendent. We’ll let the dust settle so we can have multiple options,” Geyer said. “We’re not required to look outside the district, or we can. I think it’s great when someone can come up through the system. We’re in good shape.”

The board meeting Tuesday began with a tour of Ferndale Elementary School. The building was kept unoccupied this school year to allow for some upgrades, including new carpet, window treatments, painting, new toilets, new teacher and student desks.

The school district’s business and operations manager, Aaron Duff, gave kudos to maintenance staff for keeping the work in-house, including demolition and drywall work.

“We’re taking the bones, cleaning it up and using everything we can.”

The work was part of the district’s 2016 bond plans. In the fall, the facility — set outside the town and colloquially known as “the country school” — will house fourth- and fifth-graders.

Other board meeting business included promoting Duff to an assistant superintendent position beginning July 1.

Clark discussed a recent public meeting regarding McLoughlin High School campus security. At the center is a proposed policy that allows some students to leave campus at lunch, depending on what grade they are in, their attendance, and what their current class grades look like, Clark has said.

Also being considered are campus security officers, assigned parking and tighter enforcement of rules.

At that June 11 meeting, Clark said he and Mac-Hi principal Mindi Vaughan heard “loud and clear” that parents and staff want more discipline support.

“We will hold children at a level of accountability we might not have done this year. Before I leave, I will make sure all these things are in order,” Clark said.

Steps being considered include requiring 90 percent attendance for honors diplomas, Vaughan and Clark told the board.

The discipline and attendance problems at Mac-Hi will be better next year, Clark said.

Freewater Elementary School, now emptied of elementary students, is a likely landing place next year for programs such as in-school suspension, alternative education and preschool.

Down the road, there is potential to coordinate with the Walla Walla YMCA for an after-school programs at the Freewater facility or other community programs, Clark said.

The board will have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 24 at Central Middle School to discuss how to fill Clark’s job and exit interviews of teachers who are leaving the district.

Clark said today he is proud of his work in Milton-Freewater, but not everything he aimed for got done.

Gib Olinger Elementary School that opened in 2018 is a result of the community passing its first school bond since 1982, and that stands as a sort of monument to his accomplishments here, but he is equally proud that the district adopted four core curricula in his six years — the first time in 20 years, Clark said.

“We improved the learning here, but it is still not where I wanted it to be. There is learning going on in larger capacity than when I got here.”

Clark said when he was hired the school district had no Latino teachers, and now that number hovers at about 17 percent.

“I’ve always believed students need to have leaders who look like them.”

He wants to see children here eager to explore more of the country upon graduation, returning to to the town if they choose.

“I’d say that about any community,” Clark said.

His goal is to get things better nailed down at the high school, including some personnel issues and system changes, even if that means returning to the district a few times before school starts, he said.

Clark said Milton-Freewater has good things happening at its schools, thanks to invested teachers and outside support.

“There are a lot of great people in this community.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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