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LWSD Superintendent Chip Kimball to step down after 2011-12 school year

LWSD Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball - File photo
LWSD Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball
— image credit: File photo

Dr. Chip Kimball will step down as superintendent for the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) at the end of this school year, .

It was announced Wednesday afternoon that the 2011-12 school year will be Kimball's final year with the district as he will become the superintendent of the Singapore American School (SAS) in Singapore, beginning July 1, 2012.

"It was possibly one of the most difficult decisions I had to make," Kimball told the Redmond Reporter Thursday morning.

He said leaving the district was not even on his radar when SAS first approached him early this summer. Kimball, who is in his 16th year with LWSD, initially told the school no, but they were not deterred.

"They hunted me down, pretty persistently," he said. "They asked me again."

Kimball discussed the offer with his wife and friends who have worked in international settings. He said he has always spoken about globalization, international relations and preparing students to compete internationally, so he decided, serving as a superintendent overseas would be a great opportunity to experience this firsthand.

So he decided to begin initial discussions with SAS.

"It's kind of like dating," Kimball said.

He explained that in dating, people have the opportunity to see how they feel about each other and see if they want to get engaged and eventually, if they want to get married. In the end, Kimball decided to tie the knot with SAS.

Board president Jackie Pendergrass said Kimball will be greatly missed in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

"As a board, we are dismayed to learn that Dr. Kimball will be leaving us while at the same time we are happy for him and his family in their new endeavors. His leadership has been instrumental in the strong direction of our district. The good news is that he will leave the district in a very good position."

As for a new superintendent, LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith said, "the board has yet to determine how they will go about hiring a replacement."

THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

SAS is a private K-12 school with four campuses, serving about 4,000 students. Kimball said the school's demographic is roughly 70 percent American students and 30 percent local and international students.

He said SAS is truly an American school in Asia, both in population and curriculum.

"It's something I frankly believe in," Kimball said about the American school system.

Like LWSD, he said SAS focuses on college preparation and providing students with what he calls global-readiness skills.

Although he will be on the other side of the globe, Kimball said aside from a few differences such as the side of the road people drive on, there are many similarities between the Asian country and American culture. He visited Singapore and SAS for two days in mid-August and added that Singaporean citizens call their country "Asia Lite" because it is very westernized.

This being said, Kimball said he plans to step out of his comfort zone during his time in Singapore.

"(My wife Cheryl and I) are really looking forward to embracing the culture there — truly experiencing a different culture and different kind of life," he said.

Kimball said another reason he accepted the job with SAS was because he and his wife will no longer have children living at home and do not have any grandchildren yet.

Kimball's youngest daughter will graduate from Redmond High School at the end of this school year and plans to attend Whitworth University in Spokane. They have family there, so she will have that support system nearby, he said.

While his youngest is excited for him and can't wait to visit once he and his wife move, Kimball said his oldest daughter was initially a bit disappointed because she just graduated from college and accepted a job as a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Seattle. He said she was expecting her parents to be nearby, but like his youngest, she will also have a support network of other family and friends.

BITTERSWEET GOODBYE

Kimball began his tenure with LWSD as assistant superintendent and chief information officer in 1996. In 2004, he supervised the Eastlake region of the district and two years later, became deputy superintendent. Kimball became the district's superintendent on July 1, 2007, replacing Dr. Don Saul, who retired.

Kimball said when he was hired, Ron Barnes, the superintendent at the time, wanted LWSD to be the most information-rich district in the country and wanted Kimball to invent it.

Set with this task, Kimball, who began his career in education as a high school science teacher in Madera, Calif., met with the district librarians.

Albert Einstein Elementary School librarian Anne Sandbo still remembers that first meeting. She said Kimball told them in 10 years, they would be bringing information to students online rather than through books. Sandbo, who has been with LWSD for 17 years, said many people took exception to this because they believed nothing could replace books.

A decade and a half later with all the advances in technology, Sandbo said she told Kimball she sees what he was talking about during that first meeting and the importance of staying on the "bleeding edge" of technology (because cutting edge was not enough for Kimball).

"He's learned from us and we've learned from him," she said. "It's been really validating to work with him...We do know that he values what we do."

Sandbo said she felt sad for the students when she learned about Kimball leaving. She said Kimball has always put the students first.

"It is going to be hard to follow him," she said.

Despite being sad about Kimball's departure, Sandbo is happy for him and his new endeavor.

This sentiment is echoed throughout the district.

LWSD Deputy Superintendent Traci Pierce is in her 17th year with the district and has worked closely with Kimball for about eight years.

"It's been just absolutely great," she said. "He's a great leader. He's always got great ideas."

Pierce said Kimball made people feel empowered and trusted. She said he has steered LWSD in a great direction and she wants the new superintendent to maintain this and build upon it.

Rosa Parks Elementary School principal Tina Livingston said her advice for the future superintendent is to make sure to visit the district's different communities to learn about everyone's needs.

"We're a very diverse school district," she said. "So I advise the individual to meet with lots of groups of people during the transition."

Livingston said Kimball did this when he was promoted to superintendent even though he'd already been with the district for several years.

A TOUGH JOB

Although Kimball has received much praise for superintendency, he said it has not been without challenges.

Since he was hired as superintendent, Kimball has had to deal with continuous budget cuts at the state level and has worked with district staff to protect the classroom and students. He said he plans to continue this until the end of his tenure.

Another challenge has been challenging the status quo and keeping his schools internationally competitive and college ready. Kimball said the district is always looking at how they can improve things for students.

Several key changes throughout the district have been put into place since Kimball became superintendent and many will be realized in the fall of 2012.

This includes the district's grade reconfiguration to a K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 system; the opening of the new secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) choice school and the change in the district's feeder system to balance the district's school populations.

With the latter, Kimball received much push back and opposition and admits that he should have involved the public more during the decision process. But he stands by his decision.

"The feeder bump was the right decision to make," he said.

Although he is leaving before they will be put into place, Kimball said he is 100 percent confident that these system transitions will go very well.

Kimball said during his decision-making process, he looks at all factors, including state laws, budget restrictions, employee contracts and more. He said no matter what a superintendent does, he or she will always face at least a little bit of opposition.

"Superintendents, no matter what, you can't make everyone happy," he said. "I will always get emails or phone calls from people who are not happy."

However, Kimball said whenever he is having a bad day, he likes to visit an elementary school for a quick pick-me-up because he loves seeing the students interacting with each other and their teachers and getting excited about learning.

"That's why we do what we do," he said.

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