Gibbon is Oak Harbor's new schools chief

Lance Gibbon will start as the Oak Harbor School District’s new superintendent on July 1. The school board voted in favor of Gibbon to replace Rick Schulte, who’s led the school district for 20 years and is leaving for the superintendent post in Richland. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Lance Gibbon will start as the Oak Harbor School District’s new superintendent on July 1. The school board voted in favor of Gibbon to replace Rick Schulte, who’s led the school district for 20 years and is leaving for the superintendent post in Richland.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

By the time Lance Gibbon got home Tuesday night, it was too late to hold much of a family celebration.

So Michelle Gibbon waited until the next evening to cook up a family favorite: Tater Tot casserole.

“We don’t eat that very often,” Lance Gibbon said with a laugh. “It’s not the most healthy food in the world.”

The occasion, however was fitting for Lance and Michelle and their sons Noah and Sam. Lance Gibbon got official word Tuesday night that he and his family would be sticking around Oak Harbor for some time, and that was cause for celebration, and to break out the Tater Tots.

Gibbon received unanimous approval from the Oak Harbor School District board to become the school district’s next superintendent starting on July 1.

The school board voted to give Gibbon a three-year contract to over see Oak Harbor’s 10 schools, 650 employees and 5,500 students.

Gary Wallin, school board president, will work with Gibbon on contract details and present the contract to the school board at its next meeting on June 11.

“Our entire family is happy about being able to stay here,” Lance Gibbon said. “The kids are looking forward to continuing to stay in the district.”

And Gibbon is looking forward to the new opportunity and the challenges and rewards that come with it.

He will take over for Rick Schulte, who is leaving Oak Harbor after 20 years after accepting the superintendent post with the Richland School District.

Schulte’s last day in Oak Harbor is June 30.

Gibbon, 44, has spent the past six years serving as assistant superintendent for Oak Harbor schools alongside Schulte.

He said the transition into the superintendent role will be easier than an outsider coming in because of his familiarity with the Oak Harbor schools and the mentoring of Schulte. He already is assuming some of the responsibilities of the superintendent position.

“I feel very fortunate to have so much time with Rick,” Gibbon said.

Acknowledging that Schulte is leaving the Oak Harbor schools in great shape, Gibbon said his intent is to review how the district is running by receiving input from staff, parents and the community.

With facility overhauls and new building construction one of Schulte’s key legacies, Gibbon wants to shift the focus more on increasing student success. His vision for Oak Harbor schools is of a “caring community educating every student for success.”

“Even with the transition, it’s still a great opportunity to review how we are doing things and look for ways to do things better in helping students be more successful,” Gibbon said. “

For me, part of that next step is getting input and feedback.”

Gibbon said he also wants the Oak Harbor schools to be a place where teachers look forward to coming to work.

Gibbon said he is optimistic that the current stalemate between the Oak Harbor Education Association and the school district can be resolved by the two parties.

Peter Szalai, president of the teachers union, has expressed concerns to the school board in recent meetings about the lack of progress in contract negotiations between the teachers and the school district. The teachers’ one-year contract expires in August.

The only scheduled meeting remaining for negotiations is June 7.

“There’s always a certain amount of tension in the midst of any negotiating process,” Gibbon said. “I know each member of both of the bargaining teams.”

“These are good people. I trust that they are going to keep working together to come up with a mutually agreeable contract.”

“At this point, I’m choosing to be optimistic and just trust in the process. They have another bargaining session on the 7th. I think they are going to keep making progress and keep working at it.”

Among other orders of business the school district is facing are hiring an assistant superintendent, communications director and maintenance director.

Joe Hunt, current communications director, will be leaving the school district in August.

Gibbon said some of those positions could be redefined. He wants to look harder at those roles and weigh feedback from staff.

“Do we want to create new positions with any of those?” Gibbon said. “Those are the kinds of discussions we need to have.”

Gibbon, a former professional musician and recording artist, has spent 21 years in public education, beginning as an elementary school music teacher in the Lake Washington School District.

He spent seven years in the Anacortes School District before coming to Oak Harbor in the summer of 2007.

The Oak Harbor school board has eyed Gibbon as a possible successor to Schulte ever since Schulte informed the board two years ago that he was planning to step down after the 2013-14 school year.

Other school districts have tried to recruit Gibbon away from Oak Harbor and Wallin mentioned Tuesday night that he feared he might lose him when the Anacortes superintendent job opened recently.

But Gibbon said he is glad to be staying in Oak Harbor, and is grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support he’s received since Tuesday night. Cards, flowers and a flood of emails have come into the district office with notes of congratulations.

“We have a very caring, very supportive staff,” Gibbon said. “That’s part of the reason I love to work here. That’s the kind of environment we have here. That’s what I really want us to continue and grow and foster -- a sense of caring in the community."


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