Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal, right, receives an honorary apron from Bernie O’Donnell, vice president/Northwest area manager for Vanir, as school representatives and officials celebrate the opening of the Sequim School District’s new central kitchen on March 26. Neal announced this week he is resigning his superintendent position effective June 30, and will take a position with Vanir Construction Management, Inc., the firm that oversaw the central kitchen project along with demolition of the unused 1950s portion of the community school. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal, right, receives an honorary apron from Bernie O’Donnell, vice president/Northwest area manager for Vanir, as school representatives and officials celebrate the opening of the Sequim School District’s new central kitchen on March 26. Neal announced this week he is resigning his superintendent position effective June 30, and will take a position with Vanir Construction Management, Inc., the firm that oversaw the central kitchen project along with demolition of the unused 1950s portion of the community school. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim schools superintendent Neal resigns, effective June 30

With a little more than one year remaining on his contract, superintendent Gary Neal, 60, is resigning his position as the Sequim School District’s top administrator.

Neal’s resignation went through the consent agenda Monday night to Sequim School Board directors, who unanimously approved the motion 4-0 with Heather Short absent.

Neal’s resignation date is effective June 30.

While he didn’t reveal his plan Monday saying he needed to wait to for approval from his new employer, Neal said Tuesday morning that he plans to work for Vanir Construction Management, Inc. of Bellevue — the firm who oversaw construction of the district’s $5.75 million capital levy project to to construct a new central kitchen and demolish the Sequim Community School.

Neal said he’ll work as a Senior Program Director in the Northwest for Vanir’s K-12 program assisting school districts with pre-bond and levy projects.

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Neal said. “I enjoy working with groups especially in moving forward with infrastructure.”

He’ll tentatively begin July 15, he said.

In May 2018 Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal, pictured with student board representative Tea Gauthun and Helen Haller kindergartner Emma Bixby, commemorate “a historic moment” as the school district celebrates the groundbreaking for a new central kitchen, a building that was officially opened in March 2019. Sequim Gazette file photo by Erin Hawkins

In May 2018 Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal, pictured with student board representative Tea Gauthun and Helen Haller kindergartner Emma Bixby, commemorate “a historic moment” as the school district celebrates the groundbreaking for a new central kitchen, a building that was officially opened in March 2019. Sequim Gazette file photo by Erin Hawkins

Neal said he fostered a relationship with Vanir staff during the levy project, and that he was impressed with their commitment to Sequim by participating in school and community events.

“From day one they told us, ‘We want to be involved with your community and not just build a building,’” he said. “They were incredible and came through with what they promised.”

Neal said he had been recruited in recent weeks and his decision wasn’t cemented until May 3.

Bernie O’Donnell, vice president/Northwest area manager for Vanir, said they are thrilled to bring on Neal and that some of his duties include serving as a community liaison, working with OSPI, and serving as an expert in K-12 curriculum trends.

“K-12 schools are our core business, so he’ll be a huge benefit to us there,” he said.

“We’re thrilled to have him on board, but for me it’s a little bittersweet because we’re losing a very good client contact. I know he’s going to be a huge loss for the community and particularly the children.”

Neal told school board directors and a packed audience Monday night that he appreciates the opportunity to work in Sequim.

“This was five years of my life. It was an incredible experience personally and professionally,” he said. “I’m forever in debt to Sequim schools.”

Neal said over the next two months he’ll focus on the superintendent transition, the district’s strategic plan, its organizational chart for district office staff and begin gathering information for the next steps for the district’s infrastructure.

Gary Neal, Sequim Schools superintendent, speaks with student representatives Payton Sturm and Damon Little during a break of the Sequim School Board. That night, May 6, board directors approved Neal’s resignation. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Gary Neal, Sequim Schools superintendent, speaks with student representatives Payton Sturm and Damon Little during a break of the Sequim School Board. That night, May 6, board directors approved Neal’s resignation. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Board, staff reaction

In a letter released after Monday’s meeting, Sequim School Board President Brian Kuh thanked Neal for his time and service.

“He has led a variety of efforts during his tenure here, including the successful completion of the Capital Projects Levy. This has resulted in the completion of a new Central Kitchen facility, and the deconstruction of the old Community School – both placing our district in an ideal position to pursue the next steps of our broader facility improvement and expansion plans,” Kuh wrote.

“The Board understands Superintendent Neal’s stated reasons for seeking new opportunities elsewhere, and we wish him the best in those pursuits.”

Kuh continued to write that “we remain grateful for the community’s engagement towards the betterment of our schools and students, and we look forward to continuing to work in alignment with the strategic vision cultivated for our district.”

Sequim school board directors twice reviewed Neal’s contract, in early 2018 and 2019, but declined to extend it.

The decision to not extend his contract drew the ire of a small group of community members who spoke in support of Neal — and moving the district toward improvements in capital projects — at an April board meeting.

However, Carol Harms, Sequim Education Association secretary, shared a statement from the teachers’ union on Monday backing the board’s decision to not renew Neal’s contract.

Harms said public comments made at the last school board meeting prompted the teachers’ union to vote on whether or not to make a statement, with 88 percent of respondents saying they do not recommend extending Neal’s contract.

“We know that the board put extensive thought into such a decision and we feel it is the correct decision for the district,” Harms said. “We would also like to express our appreciation of the Sequim School Board. Your hours of service to our district and our community have made a real difference.”

Union representatives said that the survey went out before Neal’s decision to resign was made public.

Sequim Schools Superintendent Gary Neal thanks the school district and community during his five years here. He plans to work for Vanir Construction Management, Inc. this July. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sequim Schools Superintendent Gary Neal thanks the school district and community during his five years here. He plans to work for Vanir Construction Management, Inc. this July. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Tenure

Neal has been with the Sequim School District since July 2014 when he was hired as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning working under then superintendent Kelly Shea.

He began his term as Interim Superintendent in July 2015 as the Sequim School Board sought Shea’s successor, but the board declined to hire any of their three finalists, and eventually removed Neal’s’ “interim” status on Nov, 2, 2015.

Neal was a finalist for a superintendent position with the Hockinson School District in southwest Washington state in February but was not selected.

Boots retires

Sequim’s board of directors also approved the retirement of Patra Boots, executive director of Assessment and Technology.

Boots served as principal of Helen Haller Elementary School in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 while also holding the school district’s technology administration position, before shifting to serve as the district’s lead on technology, vocational and assessment programs.

Boots came to the Sequim School District in 1996 as assistant principal of Sequim High School. In 2000, she became director of instruction and technology and in 2005 was named principal at Sequim Community School.

She also taught at the middle school, high school and college levels.

On May 6, the board also:

• approved resignations of paraeducators Travis Britten (Greywolf) and Neva Miller (Sequim Middle School) and Helen Haller Elementary custodian Nick Kromm

• approved a one-year leave of absence of Sequim High School teacher Katie Ward and Helen Haller Elementary paraeducator Sarah Sullivan.

Editor Michael Dashiell contributed to this report.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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