District's 'Hunt' for communications director ends

After several months of searching, the Oak Harbor School District has finally found a person to communicate with the community.

Joe Hunt, currently a reporter for the South Whidbey Record in Langley, was named school district communications director during the Tuesday evening Oak Harbor School Board meeting. He will be paid $50,000 annually.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said that Hunt brings a lot of public relations experience to the school district. The decision to create the new position stems from an $8,000 communications audit released earlier in the year which was prepared by an independent firm.

Auditors recommended that, because of the school district’s large size, a person should be hired to ensure a consistent message gets out to the community.

The audit called for developing a two-year communications plan to focus on student achievement, improve communication with non-teaching staff and upgrade the school district Web site.

For Hunt, his first days on the job will consist of learning about the community.

“The main thing is sitting down and listening to people,” Hunt said Thursday.

Hunt, who has been at the Record for the past three months, has more than 20 years of experience in communications. While at the Langley newspaper, he wrote about environmental and business issues.

Before coming to the island, Hunt lived in Alaska where he was communications director for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. His experience also includes the position of media coordinator for the Alaska state Governor’s Office. Additionally, he has been a reporter for a variety of newspapers in Alaska and Wisconsin.

Hunt said he has written a book about the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and politics and policies surrounding it. The manuscript is being reviewed by a publisher.

Although he said he hasn’t had any experience working in schools, Hunt said he can draw parallels from his previous work in Alaska.

He will be begin earning his $50,000 a year salary plus $16,000 in benefits when he starts work Aug. 1.

Schulte said the school district had budgeted as much as $55,000 in salary for the position. Even though Hunt brings a wealth of communications experience, his lack of direct school experience warranted the lower salary, Schulte said.

The school district will also hire a secretary to provide administrative support to the position. The communications director will also have a budget for newsletters, brochures, community surveys, travel, training and materials.

The communications department will cost the school district approximately $156,000 annually. However, school officials have said that some of those costs will simply be transferred in from other departments.

The communications director position has caused controversy with some people in the community questioning spending money there rather than for school supplies, for example.

Hunt pointed out that the size of the school district with its thousands of concerned parents requires that the school district accurately dispenses information to them.

“No business that size could operate without coordinated communication efforts,” Hunt said.

Before starting his duties, he hopes to move inside the school district boundaries. He currently lives in Langley with his wife, Julia Sopalski, and 10-year-old son, Gavin.

He’s looking forward to the new job. “I want to tell the stories of the Oak Harbor School District. There’s a thousand different stories there,” Hunt said.

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