North Beach schools a year later: Rancor has faded

One year after firing its former superintendent, the North Beach School Board has awarded new Superintendent Andrew Kelly with an extended contract after he was credited with addressing some of the most urgent problems faced by the district over his first six months on the job.

At the school board meeting Jan. 15, Kelly also was given a vote of confidence from North Beach Education Association president Will Oaks as part of public comment on the superintendent’s mid-year report.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Andy this year. It has been a nice change from the way things were going last year,” said Oaks, a teacher at Pacific Beach Elementary.

“I’m just really excited to share with the board, but also with the community, the progress that I think is measurable evidence that the district is moving in the right direction,” Kelly said in a formal presentation that preceded the board’s action and an executive session.

Board members unanimously approved extending Kelly’s contract through June 2022.

Kelly and the district have rallied around the theme of “rise above the tide,” and set a goal to become the highest performing school district in Grays Harbor among four goals adopted by the board and the superintendent. One of the key elements to that goal, according to Kelly, was coming to agreeable terms with the education association on a new contract with raises for teachers in the district.

“If we’re going to be the highest performing school district in Grays Harbor, we need to pay our teachers,” Kelly said. “And for decades in North Beach, teachers, administrators and classified staff were amongst the lowest paid in our county. So it was very difficult to recruit people to move here because they could make more money living elsewhere.”

With labor contracts settled, Kelly said the district can now look for new teachers with offers that amount to nearly $8,000 more annually than neighboring school districts.

“That allows us to recruit quality people to come work with our kids,” Kelly said.

Kelly was hired in July to replace former superintendent Deborah Holcomb, whose administration in less than two years was criticized for problems with class sizes, dealing with school discipline problems, teacher defections and inflexibility. Kelly had previously been superintendent and principal at the Lyle School District in Eastern Washington.

As part of the fourth goal, Kelly has proposed a long-term facilities plan for the district, including the need to build a new elementary school in Pacific Beach.

One of the first things Kelly did was to develop a “code of cooperation” for the entire district that details “how we are going to work together to support the needs of our kids,” Kelly said. Each school also now has individual improvement plans.

“We made some targeted new hires based on the need that we had,” Kelly noted of his first round of hiring decisions, including a new principal at North Beach High School. “We’ve got great people in our positions to do the work now.”

One of the key decisions was to move the district superintendent’s office and staff to the junior/senior high school. Kelly noted Ocean Shores Elementary School, the district’s newest facility, will be fully paid off in 2022.

“If we can get the plan ready for Pacific Beach, and we can get it to come in at or below what people are currently paying, then we can go to people and say, ‘For no new money out of your pocket, we can build a brand new elementary school,’” Kelly said as a way of building support among property taxpayers. The state also matches funds put into school construction, Kelly added, with a 50 percent match.

“It’s really in our best interest to be planned and ready to go,” he said, because those funds otherwise would go to other districts.

Oaks lauded Kelly for being a “great leader” who is “easy to work with” and open to collaborative discussion to “engage in creative problem-solving. And that’s wonderful. It’s a really nice change of pace to work with someone who wants to work with you.”

Kelly later told the board: “I’m pleased to be here and I love being here with my family, and I love the work we are doing as a district.”