The former Camas administrator sat down with ClarkCountyToday.com to outline his goals for Hockinson School District and the surrounding community
BRUSH PRAIRIE — Steve Marshall needs to go shopping. The 49-year old takes over this Summer as the next superintendent of the Hockinson School District, and says his wardrobe needs a little updating.
“Because now I’ve gone from black and red to, I think it’s cardinal blue, silver, and navy. And over here, it’s yellow, and black,” Marshall jokes. “That’s how you can tell when I’m all in, right? I’m part of that community. I’ll represent.”
Marshall started his educational career as a middle school teacher in the Vancouver School District. He then taught and coached at the high school level in the Evergreen School District before becoming an administrator at Mountain View High School. Marshall then moved to the Camas School District as principal at Camas High School, and most recently was the district’s Director of Educational Resources.
Marshall jokes his career has been basically taking on increasingly bigger roles at increasingly smaller school districts.
“One thing I really admire about Hockinson, or I appreciate about Hockinson, is that its identity is strongly tied to its schools,” Marshall says from his new office inside the former Hockinson Elementary School building. “As an educator, and as someone who believes in the power of community, I like that tight relationship or connection.”
In some ways the superintendent of the Hockinson School District is the defacto mayor of the place that’s not an actual town, but very much has its own identity.
Marshall takes over for Sandra Yager, who left after eight years as Hockinson superintendent to take the same job with Cornerstone Christian Academy in Vancouver. Marshall says Yager was instrumental in helping him integrate into the Hockinson community and understanding how the unique district works.
“She’s inspired me because her leadership is evident everywhere you look. Like, this is a former classroom, right?” Marshall says, gesturing around his office. “And just, it doesn’t happen this way always. And so this is just one example, but the quality of people that she’s hired, the educational opportunities she’s helped create for students, relationships with the community, and then just her overall energy. She’s a special leader.”
Yager was Hockinson High School’s first principal, and oversaw the building of the new elementary school which opened in 2017. Marshall calls hers “big shoes to fill.”
The first-time superintendent is also keenly aware that he takes over shortly after Hockinson became the only school district in the state to vote down a replacement maintenance and operations levy, along with a technology levy. Voters eventually passed the M&O Levy on the second try, but the technology levy failed in both attempts.
Marshall says he understands property tax increases that hit last year as part of the deal to fully fund basic education, along with wage disputes that led to teacher strikes for many school districts, have left voters fatigued when it comes to funding schools. Districts are also seeing shifting demographics with people moving into the county who either don’t have children yet, or older couples whose children have already graduated.
Before starting the job, Marshall says he spent time meeting with members of the community and getting feedback on the district. He also met with administrators in all the schools, and attended a number of meetings.
“It showed me that there are lots of different dimensions to maybe a lower level of support,” says Marshall, who plans to visit several families over the Summer to check in with them and their students. “That’s also one of my ambitions is to excite people about Hockinson schools. And if they’ve lost their enthusiasm for school, to recapture that enthusiasm, and enlist not only their support but their involvement in the schools, and make them feel welcome. And to make them feel like they’re getting a great return on their investment.”
Community engagement is a key part of Marshall’s major goals as superintendent. Hockinson is a unique district since it is independent of a town. Hockinson is, in large part, defined by its school district, especially with the Hawks winning back-to-back state football titles. Marshall says he hopes to use that enthusiasm to more fully integrate the community with the school district, and encourage people to show up for sporting events, plays, and more.
Work meets life
That sense of integration into school life comes easily to Marshall. Asked what he does when he’s not working, the man is momentarily stumped.
“I think for an educator, honestly, your personal time and professional time overlap, right?” he finally says, leaning back in his chair. “And so rather than maybe watching a movie, I will go watch a school play. Rather than watching the Blazers play a basketball game, I will watch the Hockinson athletes play their games.”
Marshall says he does enjoy trips to Lake Merwin with his wife of 20 years and their three children, ages 18, 12, and seven. His wife enjoys skiing, but Marshall usually wakeboards because “I’m not a daredevil.”
With age 50 approaching, Marshall admits his activities are changing. Instead of running in the Hood-to-Coast he’s picking up pickleball or yoga and pilates. Marshall says he’s also trying to make more time for his children, outside of attending school activities
Right now the Marshall family is still living in Camas, although they have tentative plans to begin looking for a place in Hockinson at some point in the future. Right now Marshall says a lot of the places available in the area are still a bit outside of his price range, though they definitely want to integrate into the community as much as possible even before making it their permanent home.
The Hockinson Way
One point Marshall wants to make abundantly clear is that his door and his ears are open. In meeting with members of the Hockinson school system he has repeatedly asked the same question:
“Every district has a way,” he says. “So the Battle Ground way or the Hockinson way, you know? I want to get acquainted with this Hockinson way. And, what do you want to preserve? And then what do we want to improve? So I guess in that way, I’m an educational leader, but then I’m trying to be the learner at the same time, right? Learn before the lead.”
Marshall says that also applies to parents and students. At larger districts, he says, there can be a necessity for more separation between the superintendent and parents or students with concerns. With fewer than 2,000 students throughout the district, though, Marshall says he anticipates his management style can benefit from years of being an educator first.
“I hope it’s the right fit, that I have the educator’s heart, I guess, and the leader’s mind, he says between long, thoughtful pauses — a common occurrence in Marshall’s manner of speaking.
“So hopefully, that combination of skills works out.”