Meet the Issaquah School District’s new superintendent

March 3, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

New: March 3, 12:16 p.m.

Ron Thiele maybe the associate superintendent now, but come July 1, he’s dropping the associate and stepping in as the superintendent of the Issaquah School District. Thiele took the time last week to answer a few questions from the Sammamish Review.

Q: What is your overarching education philosophy?

A: Public schools should strive to create the best overall experience possible for every student in order to prepare them to embrace the academic and practical challenges in front of them. My philosophy is very aligned with the mission of the Issaquah School District.


Q: Why do you want to be superintendent?

A: I care deeply about young people and our community and as superintendent I can have a significant impact on the quality of education and overall experience that the district provides. Being superintendent also gives me the opportunity to promote the philosophy and mission of the district. Moreover, we have an incredible staff in the district, and it will be an honor to work and lead them in their efforts to care for and educate our community’s children.


Q: What’s going to change in your day-to-day job when you go from being the associate superintendent to superintendent?

A: As superintendent, I will spend more of my time each day working and collaborating with the school board, community groups and community leaders. I will have more commitments to represent the district. I will also have increased responsibilities to collaborate and provide leadership to the entire cabinet. I will work less directly with principals on a daily basis and more with cabinet level administrators and the public. Having said that, it will still be a challenge for me to not keep at least a finger in just about every aspect of the district operations, but fortunately we have amazing administrators whom I have trust and confidence in to keep the district the well-managed organization that it is today.


Q: If you were to write your own job description, what would it say?

A: To provide educational leadership to the entire Issaquah School District community, work closely with the district board of directors, central administration, principals, teachers and support staff to promote the mission and ends, and create the best experience possible for all students. Ensure the system is well managed. Be a strong advocate on behalf of the district and public education. Other duties as assigned.


Q: What do you think is the biggest problem facing the district right now and how do you plan to address it?

A: Narrowing the achievement gap among our underperforming groups of students while maintaining an academically rigorous program with high expectations for all students in a safe nurturing environment during uncertain economic conditions. I believe this problem is best addressed by putting skilled and highly trained teachers and support staff in front of students. We must also work closely with our families and community to support our students while providing them with high quality learning material in a safe, caring environment of high expectations. As for the economic uncertainty, we must continue to press our elected officials in Olympia to honor the state constitution and fully fund a K-12 education worthy of the 21st century and our students.


Q: What sort of changes do you see yourself implementing in the first six months to a year?

A: One important change I will promote for the district is the implementation of the new teacher and principal evaluation systems as we move from pilot to full implementation. We will also need to continue to increase our work with common assessments and our move toward the new common core standards. These are very significant changes impacting all public school systems across the state. I will also be working with staff to explore some new teaching, professional development and technological innovations that may help us better address student and teacher needs. Increased use of technology for administration and scoring of student assessments is just one example.


Q: What changes will parents notice as the district adopts the common core standards?

A: The early indications are that these new standards take students deeper into more challenging content and skills. As a result, many of our courses will change to reflect these more rigorous standards and may be felt in the daily work for students. Moreover, student assessment scores may decline as compared to the currents assessments MSP, HSPE and End of Course Assessments.


Q: As charter schools could start to pop up in the state, what impact might they have on the district?

A: If the state and charter operators are true to the spirit of the initiative campaign, they should initially be concentrated in areas of the state with traditionally underperforming and even failing schools, and our area does not fit that description. However, if students leave our district to attend a charter school, we will lose revenue and assuming the numbers are relatively low, spread among numerous schools and grade levels, our operating cost will remain the same resulting in a net financial loss for the district. Having said that, if a charter school creates an approach or program that can better address a student need, such as closing an achievement gap, and be implemented and scaled to a large public system I would happily borrow or learn from their experience and implement it in the district.


Q: Homework is a hot topic right now. What do you think? Do our students have too much homework?

A: I believe the most important aspect of homework is that it be relevant and actually contribute to the student’s learning. As a parent, I have been frustrated by homework that did not seem to promote learning and was viewed by my daughters as simply busy work. As teachers, we need to clearly explain the purpose of the homework we assign and how it will promote increased learning. Homework can be a valuable instructional tool, and there will be a lot of homework in post high school education and/or college, so we need to prepare and teach students how to manage homework, particularly at the middle and high school levels. As for the amount of homework, I think it varies appropriately depending on the individual student and the nature of the courses they have chosen to take. If you are taking a very rigorous schedule of advanced, Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses, or high-level college preparation courses, then you should expect a fairly high amount of your time outside of the school day to be spent on homework. The good news is that our Informed Self-Select and Learning Recommendations procedures for student registration provides open access to all classes for students with pretty clear expectation, so they know what they are getting into in terms of the work load. As well, students and parents need to consider the amount of activities the student is involved in outside of school and how much time they need to “study” in order to get the grades they want. It is important for students and families to consider all aspects of the child’s life and how much time it takes the individual to master specific content.


Ron Thiele

Married 22 years to Jill Thiele with two daughters: Kendall Thiele, freshman at Western Washington University and Paige Thiele, junior at Tahoma High School; and Angie, the 12-year-old wiener dog; enjoys hiking, travel, backgammon and cheering on the Huskies; lives in Maple Valley with plans to move to the Issaquah School District

Education: Bachelors of Arts, Jackson School of International Studies East Asian Studies Department, University of Washington

Teaching Certification, Seattle Pacific University

Masters of Arts in School Administration and Administrative Certification, Seattle Pacific University, Superintendent/Executive Leadership Certification, Seattle Pacific University

Work experience: Substitute teacher, Seattle public schools; junior high social studies teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District; junior high/middle school language arts and social studies teacher, and middle school assistant principal and principal, Tahoma Public Schools; middle school principal, Issaquah School District

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