New Evergreen Public Schools superintendent wants to prepare students for future

Alex Peru
Alex Peru

VANCOUVER — As students across Evergreen Public Schools return to classes this fall, the district finds itself under the direction of a new superintendent. Dr. John Steach became the new Evergreen superintendent in August, after John Deeder retired in July.

Prior to becoming superintendent, Steach served as the district deputy superintendent under Deeder. Steach said that when he was hired, the school board and Deeder were looking for a successor to Deeder, and Steach was hired knowing the intent of his position was partially to groom him for a potential job as the district superintendent.

Steach, who is from the Tri-Cities area, initially worked as a chemical engineer in Los Angeles before working at the Hanford site for 17 years. During that time, he served on the Richland school board.

John Steach is the new superintendent for Evergreen Public Schools, and he hopes to help prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world. Photo by Alex Peru
John Steach is the new superintendent for Evergreen Public Schools, and he hopes to help prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world. Photo by Alex Peru

During his eight years on the Richland school board, Steach said he “fell in love with education.” He eventually became the deputy superintendent of the Richland School District. After completing his doctorate in education through Washington State University, Steach worked as the superintendent of the Canby School District in Oregon.

Steach said that his time spent in Canby allowed him to become familiar with using technology as a teaching tool, and Deeder and the members of the Evergreen school board had been working toward a similar goal. While Steach was the deputy superintendent for Evergreen, he was tasked with laying the groundwork to ensure the district enacted a one-to-one initiative.

According to Steach, one-to-one initiatives focus on providing each student in the school system with a take home mobile device to facilitate learning goals. While technology plays a part in this initiative, “our main focus was to make it not about technology,” Steach said. “It’s got to be about instruction and teaching and learning.”

While serving as the deputy superintendent, Steach and others spent a year defining and determining the best way to implement personalized learning for students. Out of that process, Steach said that the learning “isn’t based on technology, but really isn’t possible realistically without technology as a tool.”

Steach emphasized the role that technology must play in educating students. He said that two thirds of the jobs students in the school district will have in the future do not exist yet. Students cannot be taught in the same way they have been taught in the past, Steach said.

To make students adaptable to a changing world, Steach said that teachers need to “teach students how to be self-learners.”

He believes that the implementation of the one-to-one initiative will help facilitate this goal. The school district ran a pilot one-to-one program in the spring, and the first deployment of the initiative this school year will begin next week. Steach said that once administrators know the Chromebooks being provided function as expected, 12,500 additional devices will be supplied to sixth through 12th graders in the district, with the full complement of devices scheduled for distribution by Christmas.

Steach is proud of his role in bringing a one-to-one program to Evergreen Public Schools. “My accomplishment is to provide the resources and motivation and vision for others to move forward,” Steach said.

He said that the district “needs to be about change,” so that students can keep up in a rapidly changing world.

In addition to the one-to-one initiative and helping students learn for the 21st century, Steach said that he hopes to allow the district to serve students outside of classroom instruction.

According to Steach, students spend 17 percent of their waking hours in a given year in the classroom. However, for the school district to adequately educate the students, “educating them includes finding them shelter, providing them food, getting them clothing,” Steach said.

Steach said that the school system has become a major support system for families of low income students.

As the new superintendent, Steach said that “there’s not going to be a huge change.” He said that as the deputy superintendent, he helped lay the groundwork for initiatives that are now being integrated into the school system. Changes may come as fine tuning is needed, Steach said.

While sweeping change is not in Steach’s plans, he faces some challenges. The most pressing concerns the state of school buildings. According to Steach, it has been 15 years since Evergreen Public Schools passed a bond. Consequently, the most recent school built in the district was completed 12 years ago, in 2005.

Steach said that he plans to introduce a bond measure to the school board in September, with a community survey occurring in September or October. If the survey is favorable for a bond, the bond may appear as a ballot initiative in the Feb. 2018 election.

According to Steach, the district has found that if the bond is set at the current tax rate, Evergreen could raise $600 million over a 20-year bond payoff without having to increase the tax rate.

Steach looks forward to working with administrative staff, the school board and students as he steps into the role of district superintendent. He hopes that he can make the school system a solid learning ground for all students.

“My philosophy is that we work for the kids in this district,” Steach said.

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