At a special meeting of the Fife School Board on Dec. 22, the board formally announced that superintendent candidate Kevin Alfano won the position to lead the district. In a unanimous vote the board chose Alfano over two other impressive finalists who, in turn, had been selected from a pool of 18 qualified applicants, some from out of state, who had thrown their hat in the ring for the job.
The Fife School Board released this statement upon their announcement: “The school board would like to thank all the members of the search committee for their professionalism and the many hours of service they gave for the young members of our community. We would also like to thank all of those who applied and were interested in the position; many very qualified candidates came forward, making the decision a difficult one. What this tells us is that Fife is an attractive, vibrant community and a wonderful place to work, and as a board we are very encouraged by the quality and quantity of applicants to lead our school district.
“We look forward to Kevin Alfano's leadership, which has been demonstrated in the past and will continue to be great in the future. We are excited to partner with Kevin in continuing to improve the education we give to the children in our community, and we are confident he will make an exceptional superintendent for our district.”
“I’m honored. It’s a big honor to be a superintendent in Fife,” Alfano said. “When I first came to Fife I had just completed my first year of teaching and entering my second year. I’ve worked hard to go back to school, work on my degrees and treat people the right way and I think it all comes together in a job like this. I’m more than excited – I’m honored and humbled by the decision the board made.”
Board President Bruce Burnside said there were many things about Alfano that made him stand out among the other candidates, with the most important being Alfano’s 17-year tenure with Fife Schools “He understands the history of where we’ve been and he understands where we’re going and the changes that need to be made with the new state standards that need to be met. He’s lived the history and understands the future.”
Alfano’s passion for his work was another standout quality – his “desire and fire” as Burnside described it. “He’s got it. Kevin was hired for his desire and experience, and his potential… We know he’s got the potential to grow and get even better than he is right now.”
Burnside also commented on the process that went into the national search for a superintendent via a broad-based committee led by the district’s retired deputy superintendent Jeff Short who returned in a consultative role as chairperson of the superintendent hiring committee. “Something I’m really proud of is the process we did in the selection and this success was built around Jeff Short,” Burnside said. “To hire an outside firm would have been a $15,000-$20,000 venture and we did what we did as well as any search committee but we did it our way. We did it with every union represented, every school, administrators, the community...the whole process was wonderful the way they did it.”
Burnside said he looks forward to Fife Schools moving onward and upward with Alfano now in place. “He’s going to be great. He’s open to people’s suggestions and thoughts and he’s not afraid to make his own decisions. He is a long-term Fife guy who has the vision that started years ago.”
EARNING HIS WAY
Noting that his work in the district for the past 17 years as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent for elementary education all led up to the moment he was named superintendent, Alfano said that each of these roles has given him keen insight for being the district leader.
“It is the perfect experience to be able to assume the role of superintendent because I’ve been in the classroom in Fife (High School), Surprise Lake Middle School and Columbia Junior High and the Fife administrative offices, and I’ve worked here in the district office as assistant superintendent, so I’ve seen not just the different levels of education but through different lenses too because each of these roles is just a little bit different. I’ve been fortunate to have many of those roles, so I think I have good perception of where we’re at and I can use that to gather input for where we need to go.”
Given that he has spent the past four months as Fife’s interim superintendent, following the passing of former superintendent John McCrossin in August, Alfano was able to hit the ground running once the school board made their formal announcement.
“One of the advantages of me being superintendent is that I have a good understanding of where we’re currently at,” Alfano said. “I have a great understanding of our district and John (McCrossin) did a good job of helping me be part of the big conversations last year and so there’s nothing right now that I need to sit down and study.
“If a superintendent were coming from outside the district at this point in the school year, you can bet it would be more about just getting in and wrapping up this school year and starting fresh in July. But really, I’ve been working with principals since August and we don’t have time to wait. We have plans and strategic goals we set forth in August and now we can move forward and accomplish some of those. We’re not going to wait to plan for next year – we’re going to get right to it.”
CHANGES AT COLUMBIA JUNIOR HIGH
One of Alfano’s first actions as superintendent was to move forward with building a comprehensive teaching and learning department, which will be headed up by Columbia Junior High principal Jeff Nelson, who will be moving to the district offices as executive director of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation.
“It’s a new title for a department that had a lot of components that we’re bringing under one office – all of our assessment needs, our curriculum needs, professional development needs, support for the new teacher evaluation testing, data collection and analysis – all of those things will run under Jeff.” Alfano explained. “It brings a lot of individual jobs under one department in the district office.
“We’ve always had a director of curriculum and director of teaching and learning, but it’s never been comprehensive and so I’m tasking Jeff to assist me in really building that so we can support principals and teachers in the work they have to do, which is a lot. These past couple of years they’ve been hit with a lot of state and federal mandates and my job is to ease the burdens that the principals and teachers feel with those through support through the district office so Jeff is going to assist me in that.”
With Nelson vacating the principal’s office at the junior high, his assistant principal for the past four years, Mark Robinson, will be the new principal and the assistant principal position will be posted and open for applications with the goal of having it filled by Feb. 1.
Nelson said that after 12 years as principal at the junior high, moving on is “a little bittersweet but it’s the right time to make a professional move for me, Mr. Robinson and the staff.” With 31 years invested in Fife Schools, which includes 16 years teaching at Surprise Lake Middle School and three years as assistant principal at Fife High School in addition to his years at Columbia, Nelson seems well suited to move on to the district offices.
“I am proud that the majority of my career has been as a classroom teacher,” Nelson said. “It’s very exciting to be able to establish this new Department of Teaching and learning. We’ve had support in this regard in the district before but not focused on one epartment and the time for it is now.”
ENTRY PLAN UNDERWAY
One more change in command at Fife Schools will have former Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Ben Ramirez become assistant superintendent for the district. “His major responsibilities will be to assist me in overseeing the general operations of the district,” Alfano said. “Jeff will assist me with teaching and learning and Ben will assist me with operations so Ben will oversee transportation, special educations, food services, maintenance, facilities, student enrollment – all of those day-to-day operations.”
In addition to building the Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation, one of Alfano’s top priorities in his “Entry Plan,” as he calls it, is to schedule face-to-face meetings with all the stakeholders in the Fife district. “It’s to listen, it’s to sit with, it’s to communicate with all the stakeholders in our district and that doesn’t just mean teachers and principals – it means community members, families, students, business leaders, governmental leaders, city government – to set up schedules for people to come to my office and just visit, get to know me and ask me questions and to get some insight into where people think we’re at and where we need to go.”
By getting feedback from the community at large, Alfano said this would assist him in building a five-year strategic plan for the district that goes from 2015 to 2020. "I want to start that in the spring and look at next fall as the kickoff of a five-year strategic plan. This is something John (McCrossin) really wanted to do after his first year and build the plan this year but with his passing we put it hold until the superintendent was named. Now it’s time to look at it and give people an idea of where we’ll be in five years and what are we working toward.”
Looking back over his years in Fife Schools, Alfano said he has never been one to jockey for positions up the career ladder. Rather, he focused on each position he has had to the best of his ability while preparing himself for future opportunities.
“I haven’t raced to get to this position. What I’ve always done in my life is try to prepare myself for whatever is next and when the opportunity presented itself I would be ready to go. Without working for the next job, I’ve prepared myself for the next job and when the timing was right they’ve just presented themselves. I’ve always tried to do the job I’m doing but always keep myself prepared for whatever is next. I’m passionate about leadership and I’m passionate about education and I’m passionate about Fife – those three things I think prepared me well for being the next superintendent in Fife.”