Schulte says he’ll be stepping down as Oak Harbor School District superintendent

Rick Schulte admits that the idea of change at this stage of his career doesn’t come without some apprehension.

Yet his desire for a new challenge was strong enough that he told the Oak Harbor School Board he will be stepping down as superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District following the 2013-14 school year.

Recent interest in his leadership from the Richland School District could bring his departure much sooner.

Schulte, 64, learned this week that he’s one of three finalists for that district’s superintendent post with a decision expected by the end of the month.

“It’s exciting to think about doing something new. It’s also a little intimidating getting out of your comfort zone,” said Schulte, who’s been superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District for 20 years. “You establish routines. You know people and have relationships. When you leave that behind and go into a place new and different, you look forward to the new and different, but you always worry about what you’re leaving behind.”

Schulte said his plan to not renew his contract after the 2013-14 school year was shared with the Oak Harbor School Board on different occasions in recent years, and he shared it with some administrators around the state.

He issued a statement Thursday publicly announcing his plans after news from Richland surfaced that he was among of the district’s finalists for the superintendent job there.

Schulte said he wasn’t actively seeking a new job when the Richland School District came calling.

“They called me and said, ‘We heard you might be willing to move,’” Schulte said.

“I said, ‘Well, maybe. Tell me more.’”

Richland School District is about twice the size of Oak Harbor’s with 11,700 students and 1,500 employees.

The Richland district recently passed a $98-million bond to build five elementary schools and a middle school.

Schulte said his experience overseeing school construction projects in Oak Harbor, including the high school and stadium, are of particular interest to the district, located in the Tri-Cities.

Schulte came to Oak Harbor in 1987 as assistant superintendent and took over his current role in 1993 when Roger Woehl stepped down.

His tenure of 20 years leading the same school district is believed to be the second longest active streak in the state.

“It is just the right time to move on to something new,” Schulte said. “We’ve come a long way as a school district and a long way as a community.”

“The best years in Oak Harbor are yet to come.”

School board President Gary Wallin praised Schulte’s leadership efforts over two decades. Wallin has worked with Schulte for 12 of those years.

“Rick has always been the right guy at the right time for Oak Harbor,” Wallin said. “His leadership and his dedication to Oak Harbor’s kids has kept a strong educational program going, even during financially difficult times.”

Schulte will return to the Tri-Cities next week to take part in another round of interviews.

Schulte said he believes Oak Harbor’s Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon is a natural choice to succeed him.

“We already have someone who has proven himself for six years, who is a great educational leader, who has a thorough understanding of school finances, knows how to work through tough problems, and is an active member in the Oak Harbor community,” Schulte said.

“No matter who might interview for the position, there is no one we know better and have more faith in than Lance.”

Wallin agrees with Schulte that Gibbon is a natural successor.

He said the school board will have this discussion soon, probably during its next meeting, set for April 29.




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