by Jack Mayne
Dr. David Engle, a candidate for superintendent of the Highline School District, says keeping the schools moving forward on an established forward track while financing was critically low is the most important goal he would face in the job.
There are three finalist candidates for the district superintendent’s job and the first was Engle. The other two candidates will face public questions Thursday and Friday evenings at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at Burien City Hall.
Engle, a Washington native that now lives in New Jersey and is seeking a return to his native state, was asked what he would say is a “compelling examples of educational innovation” in the Highline District.
“The portfolio of schools that you currently have developed and expanding really stand out to me,” Engle said. “The work you did at the Tyee complex, converting a large, comprehensive high school into three smaller schools aimed at personalizing the educational experience around thematic structures is really an innovative and interesting project and you have really good leadership.
“The teachers that have been drawn to that really come there because their heart says this is really a good way to engage kids, challenge them and prepare them for college and for citizenship. The district has quite a portfolio of schools, if you look at the secondary schools especially,” Engle said.
The district needs to prepare students to the high technology job future but that no single school can meet all the requirements.
Engle said he has learned from his recent employment as executive director of Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., how completely integrated digital technology already is in fast moving companies.
“I am not sure we have done enough, yet, to integrate technology to the degree that prepares the student for that kind of workplace,” he said. “The velocity of change in that kind of workplace around the use of those (digital) tools is outstripping our current ability to render students as knowledgeable users and able to work in that arena.
“I think we have a lot of work to do gather speed” to meet those needs, but lack of money will be a problem.
Engle said he thinks the “portfolio approach,” is the best way to work toward the goal, and not attempt to make overarching changes in the entire district.
“That will be an important part of our work going forward,” he said.
What does he bring?
When he was asked what his forte was for working with the district staff and board of directory – and with the community – Engle said it was his ability to capture the “priorities and the things that matter and forming a sense of sanity around the noise that is currently in the system” about change. He says he want to “bring back the sense of joy and passion to teaching and to learning.”
“I have a pretty good eye for things that look like panaceas but aren’t,” Engle said, adding that he also can spot “reforms that take us to places we shouldn’t go and, as a superintendent, intervene.”
“I think what I can bring to the district that will be most interesting to the community is a really good sense about how the integration of technology can assist our efforts going forward,” he said. “Coupled with that, a really good instructional perspective that says at the end of the day, it is still a human business, about human interface. It is about providing teachers with the kinds of tools that really do advance learning . . .”
Technology has forced a faster pace of change to education that Engle said he brings “a lot of expertise to.”
The candidate says a lot of mistakes have been made around technology integration into schools.
“I learned from those (mistakes), I won’t make them again,” Engle said. “If I do make mistakes they will be entrepreneurial and new.”
He also suggested that bringing back and keeping fine arts and music in schools was important, but financial considerations now make finding ways difficult.
“Without their own funding stream, it is almost impossible,” Engle said. “That is a challenge now, and we have to find a way to do this.
Linking teacher evaluations
Engle was told that the Highline District is starting to renegotiate a new teacher evaluation process and was asked what his approach would be to using student test results in teacher evaluations.
That is not a “fair practice,” Engle said.
“In terms of face validity, sure, we ought to be able to measure what a student learned this year, give him a test next year and see what the growth was and apply that to a teacher’s evaluation,” Engle said. “However, progressive educational practices in good schools say that every teacher shares in the learning and teaching process (where) every teacher is helping student’s read well, for instance. If that is true, who do you assign the reading gains to and how do you do that appropriately?”
The superintendent candidate said that a small change in the grades of students could propel a teacher who was highly rated one year to be a low rated one the very next year.
“That is due to chance, if anything,” Engle said. “That is a very risky measure to apply to a high stakes environment. It will be challenged and it will fail us. That is a very unreliable and volatile piece of information.
“That being said, I think we need to use all the data we can to help improve instruction and use assessments for learning so that we are able to improve the performance of our students.”
Another problem is that “we don’t have the resources” to test every teacher in every part of the curriculum “so I think we have to back off from thinking that is a panacea.”
When it comes to evaluating students, he said the old A, B, C, D, F system has been used for a long time and has been ingrained with parents, but a new “standards based rating” of students will take “really intense programs” by the district to make sure parents understand how it works.
“I think it has to be a really careful project and you can’t just do it and hope that people will understand it. You can do a lot of damage with no particular gain.”
He was born in Tacoma and began as an elementary classroom teacher in Yelm. Engle has been a high school principal in Bellingham Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools and Bellevue Public Schools. He was superintendent of North Platte Public School District in Nebraska from 2008 to 2011 and is the former executive director of Educational Testing Service in New Jersey.
Next Candidate: Dr. Joshua Garcia, tonight (Thursday, Feb. 23) from 6 – 7:15 p.m. in the Burien City Council Chambers, 400 SW 152nd Street.