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Oak Harbor schools land experience in No. 2 role
After Karst Brandsma gets settled into his new role in Oak Harbor, he doesn’t expect it will take too long before he wanders over to Wildcat Memorial Stadium.
As the Oak Harbor School District’s new interim assistant superintendent, it’s part of his job to get out of the office, meet new people and develop relationships.
As a former college quarterback and ex high school football coach, it’s only natural that he’ll get acquainted with the school district’s athletic programs, and in particular, the high school football team.
“I follow preps a lot,” Brandsma said. “I spend my Friday nights on the sidelines ... waiting for them to ask me to call a play or two.”
Brandsma’s one-year appointment in Oak Harbor was unanimously approved by the Oak Harbor School District Board Tuesday night.
Lance Gibbon, Oak Harbor’s new schools superintendent beginning July 1, pursued Brandsma because of his experience with leadership transitions and favorable reviews, figuring he’d be the ideal candidate as the school district faces its first change at the top in two decades.
Rick Schulte is moving to the Tri-Cities to tackle the superintendent job in the Richland School District after holding that post for 20 years in Oak Harbor.
Brandsma, 59, is taking on his fourth temporary leadership role in a school district since 2009, his last such stint coming as interim superintendent for the Mount Baker School District during the 2011-12 school year.
“If you look at my resume, you’d think the guy can’t hold a job,” Brandsma said jokingly.
Brandsma has become somewhat of a specialist in the area of transitional leadership. When vacancies occur in superintendent or assistant superintendent positions, retired superintendents such as Brandsma are often called upon through the Northwest Education Service District to fill in for a year to allow more time for more extensive searches for replacements.
Brandsma served as assistant superintendent of the Everett School District for seven years before he spent a year as interim superintendent.
He later became deputy superintendent of the Bellingham School District for two years before taking the interim superintendent post at Mount Baker.
Brandsma said he has spent the past year as a consultant with an eye on a position that ultimately didn’t materialize. He didn’t want to name the school district but said that he turned down other offers during his wait.
Gibbon said that when he started to search for an interim replacement for a position that he’s held for six years, Brandsma seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list. And he knew Brandsma was being sought by others.
“His experience and people skills are the two biggest things,” Gibbon told the school board Tuesday night. “This is an assistant superintendent I can give any job to get done and he’s already done it.”
Brandsma and Gibbon first chatted about the position in May. Then he visited Oak Harbor and talks got more serious.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a place I could contribute,” Brandsma said.
“My niche the last couple of years, I’ve been able to keep people focused on the real objective, which is to educate kids while they go through the transition of a change in leadership. The fear of the unknown can be a distraction.”
Brandsma will start in Oak Harbor on July 1. His contract calls for a salary of $98,800, plus benefits.
He and his wife of 39 years, Irene, own a home in Everett. He’s commuted before but is weighing his options more this time around.
His contract is only for one year, so they won’t sell their home, he said. He said he’ll likely look for a place to stay on Whidbey Island to avoid the rigors of a daily commute from Everett.
Brandsma was a celebrated athlete at Sunnyside High School, graduating in 1972, before becoming an all-conference quarterback at Eastern Washington University.
He started his career in education at Tumwater High School, teaching biology, chemistry and physical education. He also coached football, serving as offensive coordinator for legendary coach Sid Otton.
That led to eight years as a teacher and head football coach at Peninsula High School, near Gig Harbor, where Brandsma’s teams won consecutive league titles in 1984, 85 and 86.
“I like what high school coaching has to offer,” said Brandsma, a former district athletic director in Tacoma. “The education value is second to none in all avenues.”
Aside from being the Tacoma School District athletic director for six years, Brandsma managed multiple state tournaments, including the state track and field championships in Tacoma. In 1993, he was in the running for the executive director position with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, a job that Mike Colbrese landed and still holds.
After his stint in Tacoma, Brandsma returned to Tumwater and became the director of secondary education for six years until heading north to Everett.
It’s been a whirlwind career spanning stops in Thurston, Pierce, Snohomish, Whatcom and Island counties.
He said he can admire Schulte’s longevity in Oak Harbor.
“I’ve never been in one district that long,” Brandsma said. “I’ve come to know lots of different systems as well as some great people. There’s strengths and probably weaknesses to both.”
“I know the value of continuity and consistency and the longterm relationships and sense of commitment that comes with that. Dr. Schulte certainly showed that at Whidbey Island.”