COLLEGE PLACE — In his first school board meeting as superintendent of College Place Public Schools, Jim Fry spoke of community inclusion, standards of excellence and staff support.
Board Chairman Brian Maiden opened Tuesday evening’s meeting segment with a welcome to Fry, who was hired this spring to replace longtime district head Tim Payne.
Payne left College Place at the end of June to lead the Ephrata, Wash., School District.
“We’re looking forward to change ... and doing things right,” Maiden told Fry.
The new superintendent appears to have the same goal.
“One thing that attracted me to the position was the growth and change here. And people love this place,” Fry said of College Place.
He seeks to honor the work that’s gone into building the school district — including adding a high school after decades of trying to pass that kind of bond — while moving into the future, Fry told the board.
Board members Doug Case, Mandy Thompson and Maiden listed many positives the district enjoys, including a largely Adventist community that prioritizes education, robust student turnout for sports and “solid” school staff.
Fry pointed out that the district’s preschool efforts, led by special education director Justin Bradford, are promising for school growth and meeting community needs. He said he’s also looking at how to help students make the transfer from Sager Middle School to College Place High School, which is a bigger deal than going up one grade.
Case agreed, noting that while both schools are physically connected, the jump into high school is far more than moving across a hallway.
“And I’m not talking academically,” Case said.
Thompson told Fry that retaining high school students in College Place can be a challenge. There’s the issue when a parent or sibling attended Walla Walla High School and that’s seen as a family tradition. And some students leave if they want to explore working part time or taking classes at Walla Walla Community College.
Current district policy requires high school seniors to take a full credit load, and that needs to be revisited, Case said.
“We didn’t want our seniors leaving at noon if they already had all their credits. So I think we’ve lost students to Running Start (at WWCC). And kids sometimes have to get a job,” he said, pointing out that it is not the board’s place to have an opinion regarding those.
Case also said it is vital to find ways to help get kids into the clubs and activities they want to participate in.
There must also be a branding and marketing push for better visibility, Fry said, stating that as he searches for houses for sale in town, the district is not listed on some sites as having a high school.
“I want this to be their school of choice,” he said.
Fry noted that in meeting with Walla Walla Public School Superintendent Wade Smith, the two saw the situation the same way — College Place’s public high school students should attend College Place High School.
“There are ‘new high school’ challenges,” Fry told his board.
“We’ll be trying new things to ... fit our culture and our community. But to re-evaluate is one of the cool things we get to do.”
At the top of the “to do” list is making sure teachers can support their students. It’s part of his “expectation of excellence,” Fry said
“I am here today because of a teacher who gave me a place I felt confident in. Where I could be myself.
“That’s the challenge, to ‘be the one.’ We have to be ready, and it is such a reward ... One student at a time is what we’re about,” he said.
For that, teachers have to be valued and cared for, Fry said.
“Teaching, second to nursing, is the most draining profession.”
City officials here have solid partnerships with the district — a benefit of being small, but not the case in every small district, he said.
“The great thing is, the community owns these schools.”
Fry plans to engage students, parents and the larger community in informal listening sessions, he said.
“My job is to come in and listen and connect.”