Renton says goodbye to Superintendent Heuschel

Mary Alice Heuschel, who is leaving as superintendent of the Renton School District to become chief of staff for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, met with well-wishers Wednesday at a gathering at Renton High School.  - Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter
Mary Alice Heuschel, who is leaving as superintendent of the Renton School District to become chief of staff for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, met with well-wishers Wednesday at a gathering at Renton High School.
— image credit: Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter

Community and business leaders, Renton School District staff and former state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction employees celebrated Renton Superintendent Mary Alice Heuschel at her farewell party Wednesday afternoon.

The event was held in Renton High School’s Commons. There were thank you tributes to Heuschel displayed from classes and schools around the district. Tables held personal pictures of Heuschel’s travels, a card with her foundational beliefs for the district and post cards for attendees to write her notes. A slideshow displayed even more photos and well wishes from students, staff and people around the city.

“It’s very amazing to see so many people who are coming to this from my years at OSPI, (and) professional organizations,” said Heuschel. “I look around the room and I can’t believe it. I really expected our staff, our team. You know a farewell kind of thing. But look at this, it’s amazing.”

Heuschel will next become Gov.-elect Jay Inslee’s chief of staff at about 10:35 a.m. on Jan. 16, when he takes his oath, she said.

Wednesday's School Board meeting is also Heuschel's last.

“It’s very emotional,” Heuschel said. “It’s just a combination of excitement and it’s hard to leave this. This is an amazing family, it’s the hardest part of doing it.”

Heuschel will be missed in her role by people in the district and beyond.

“What I’m going to miss about Mary Alice is just the fact that she is a person – regardless of whether she is superintendent – just as a person she’s good with her word,” said Damien Pattenaude, principal of Renton High School.

Pattenaude related a story about how Heuschel went out of her way to get a student of his an internship at Valley Medical Center.

Heuschel’s word builds trust, he said.

Edward Vargas, superintendent of the neighboring Kent School District, had nothing but appreciative words to say about Heuschel, too.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Vargas said of her move to Inslee’s team. “I think it will be good for education and for Washington.”

Heuschel said that while she will be working in Olympia, she plans to come home on the weekends to her home in the area. She’s excited by the opportunity to make a difference and said she’ll still be taking care of Renton, with a big smile and a laugh.

While farewell festivities took place this week for Heuschel, plans are under way to recruit her replacement.

Although there were no attendees at Tuesday night’s community meeting for input on the school district superintendent search, Renton School Board members say they aren’t worried.

“(I’m) not nervous when you don’t see anyone show up,” said Al Talley, board member. “Only time people show up anyway is when there’s something wrong.”

Tuesday night at Renton High School was the first of three community meetings this week to get feedback on the search criteria the district is creating to replace Heuschel.

The search firm and school district board members are confident they will get the input from the community they need because they have already received 500 entries from a survey soliciting advice they posted last week.

Talley also expects to see community participation when the district gets further along in the process. He was on the board in 2006 when they conducted another superintendent search that led to hiring Heuschel. He was happy with how that search was conducted and expects the same this time around.

“Before it was great,” Talley said. “It’s a great opportunity to get the community involved and just - ok, this is what we’re looking for and just hear what they have to say.”

The community and the board were often on the same page, he said, but it was still valuable and useful.

“I think they’ll get a very good field of candidates,” said Dennis Ray, president of Northwest Leadership Associates, the search firm. “And we just hope that one of those candidates is the right candidate. Of course it all comes down to fit and is it the right person for Renton.”

There are currently 12 superintendent seats open in the state, Ray said. But, he said that’s good news because there will be about 40 superintendent positions open during the course of the year.

“So, really this is in the early part of the season for superintendents to make moves,” Ray said.

Ray is confident Renton will get the kind of superintendent it wants because of the district’s “solid reputation.”

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