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by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Call him a sentimentalist. Or an optimist. Just don’t call him finished — not yet.
For all the years removed from his teaching days — about 30 years’ worth — Bill Bentley still draws plenty of hope and inspiration from the young, wide-eyed students that fill Sequim schools’ hallways.
“Schools are such an inspiring place to be,” says the Sequim Schools superintendent, just a couple of weeks from his final day on the job.
“We have a saying, that this is the only workplace in the world where most of the clientele wants to be older. We walk into a place of hope.”
Perhaps that’s why Bentley isn’t calling his stepping down from the top administrator job in the district a retirement. The man who spent four decades in public education isn’t ready to leave the classrooms (or boardrooms) for good.
“I haven’t closed the door on doing something else in the field I love,” he says. “I still have a passion for the field of education.”
For the past five years, Bentley led a school district with about 350 staffers and about 2,800 students. On July 1, Kelly Shea of Spokane steps in as Sequim’s new superintendent. And, temporarily at least, Bentley will be unemployed.
That seems to set well with the Northwest native, as he takes a break from handling one school issue or another by strumming his custom steel-string acoustic guitar, finger-picking his way through a bit of country, some folk standards, some Beatles.
“I’ve been a superintendent for about 30 years,” he says. “I’m making an abrupt change. I’ll miss working with people to get really important things done.”
Since Bentley’s first day on the job — July 1, 2007 — Washington state public schools have seen massive changes in curriculum requirements, standardized testing and funding structure.
Sequim schools weathered these challenges, Bentley says, thanks to a strong board and administrative team and a supportive community.
Instead of enhancing programs and adding others to the district, Bentley and company spent much of the past half-decade keeping existing programs afloat.
“We had to put plans on hold. There were things instructionally we wanted to do; instead we had to deal with finances,” Bentley says. “That became the problem to solve. I feel like we solved it with the community’s support.”
That support came, in a large part, from a three-year, $14.7 million maintenance and operations levy in February 2010 that passed by a three-to-two margin.
Bentley said he’s proud of several things the district has accomplished in his term, including the revitalization of the old high school building (now home to administrative offices), razing and rebuilding on new property of the transportation center, and, not the least, the decision to close the majority of a decaying Sequim Community School.
“I think our future is in great hands,” Bentley says.
Now, it’s onto other things. Bentley and his wife, Lorna, are planning to do plenty of seeing the country in a travel-trailer when her employment in Port Townsend is finished. He aims to play a lot more guitar, one of his passions. He’s also looking at taking some classes on how to build a timber-framed home. And then, he says, he’ll build one.
After that, who knows? Though traveling is on his mind, Bentley has spent his career in the Northwest, from Idaho to Oregon and, since 1993, in Washington.
“I wouldn’t trade my experience, my time here,” Bentley says. “I can’t think of a much better place to live.”