Oak Harbor schools chief lauded at board meeting

Rick Schulte hugs Lynn Goebel and Kathy Chalfant after a speech Monday, honoring the 17-year superintendent.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Rick Schulte hugs Lynn Goebel and Kathy Chalfant after a speech Monday, honoring the 17-year superintendent.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

In what was part tribute, part old-fashioned “roast,” Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte was surprised by an hour of stories and jokes at Monday night’s school board meeting.

Guest speakers— such as Mayor Jim Slowik and former colleagues — were planted in the crowd.

“I’m certain by now that you’ve noticed quite a few familiar faces in the audience, none of whom are carrying pitchforks,” Peter Hunt, school board president said, jokingly.

Hunt added the special recognition to the meeting agenda, and an email was circulated earlier that day to tip off staff and community members.

The tribute honored Schulte for his 23 years of leadership and his daily efforts. A 17-year superintendent, he is one of the longest serving superintendents in Washington state.

“We are here tonight to publicly acknowledge that it is not easy to write a fair and forward thinking budget anytime, much less in a tough economy like today. Yet we made it through the first year of a national crisis in education funding, without having to release a single teacher or staff member,” Hunt said.

He noted that it isn’t easy to speak to the community with one clear voice above the noise, but said Schulte is “the definition of perseverance.”

Mayor Jim Slowik, a former school board member, said the $10 million Student Union Building at Oak Harbor High School carried the city of Oak Harbor’s budget this year.

“You have built budget success for this district,” he said.

Other speakers described the superintendent as “intelligent,” “organized,” “sweet,” and a man who uses “lots of big words and long sentences.” Many colleagues joked about his 17-page memos, but were also thankful for his good note-taking.

Mia Wallgren spoke as a mom and volunteer, and said Schulte took a broken school district and transformed it into one of the best in the state.

“The remodel was like a dream come true,” Wallgren said of the three-year moderation project at the high school. “We were rebuilding our schools and rebuilding trust in our administration.”

“You have allowed Oak Harbor to do much more with much less than many other districts,” said Peter Szalai, former president of the Oak Harbor Education Association.

The speakers shared funny and inspiring stories and some included roast-like introductions, such as Mike and Susan Waller.

“What’s significant about 17 or 23 years?” Mike joked. “Twenty-five I could understand.”

The school board and community presented Schulte with a plaque, and he thanked the audience before the meeting continued.

Schulte said the opening of the Student Union Building was a real high point because he saw the pride it brought to students. He also commented on the trust speakers said they built with him over the years.

“The reason I trust people to do something is because I don’t know how to do it myself,” Schulte said, adding he is not an engineer, custodian, educator and so on. “I trust people to do the job well and they don’t let me down.”

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