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New Renton Schools superintendent spending first weeks listening

Renton School District Superintendent Merri Rieger interacts with a boy at Heritage Park July 10. - Courtesy image
Renton School District Superintendent Merri Rieger interacts with a boy at Heritage Park July 10.
— image credit: Courtesy image

Merri Rieger, incoming Renton School District superintendent has had a “really warm welcome” to the start of her post as schools chief, which began July 1.

The former Kent School District student achievement officer replaces interim Renton Superintendent Vera Risdon and previous chief Mary Alice Heuschel, who stepped down last year to become Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff.

“It’s been wonderful; I can’t believe it’s been about a week and a half,” Rieger said July 11.

In her first weeks, the superintendent has spent time listening and learning from the assistant superintendents, principals, department directors and other staff in the district.

It was her opportunity to ask staff what they are most proud of and what she needs to know about the district and staff’s individual schools. Rieger asked for ideas on how staff thinks the district can be improved, she said.

Before school ended for the year, Rieger distributed a questionaire to the staff leadership team, about 100 people, asking for feedback. She also met with members of her cabinet then, too. Rieger plans to continue her rounds, meeting with a few staff each day during the whole summer.

She’s also toured some of the programs the district hosts with community partners in the area. For example, Rieger visited Heritage Park July 10, one of the sites for the summer meals program hosted with the City of Renton. She also attended a Brock Huard youth football camp of about 150 students.

“It’s given me a great opportunity as well to get out into the community and to navigate my way through this very large geographic district,” Rieger said.

Having traveled quite a few of the local roads now, using Google Maps, Rieger said she’s now learning how to find the shortcuts.

Summer goals

Rieger plans to continue learning about the district and taking inventory this summer and into the beginning of next year, before she rolls out any changes.

“My goals this summer are to learn more about the district from the people within the district,” she said.

Her goals for the summer include:

• visit each of the district schools before the start of the next academic year and be on campus at each during the first month of school,

• have quiet time with principals, so they can share insight on their schools,

• meet with school board members,

• meet with community members,

• review district policies, and

• understand the regulations tied to using funds approved by the state for the recently passed budget.

“So it’s getting down to  not only the work part of it, but understanding a new system, but also getting out and meeting the people,” Rieger said.

Changes for next school year

With Rieger’s administration, parents won’t see any immediate changes next year in the district. Teachers and principals will see changes in their evaluation  tools, as a result of statewide changes being implemented starting with the 2013-2014 school year. The Renton School District is “a little ahead of the curve,” Rieger said, because the district has been working on a new evaluation system for the last two years.

After getting feedback and insight from students, parents and staff, Rieger plans to start sharing what she’s learned and proposing her ideas in the second part of next year.

“February-ish” is the earliest she expects to start working collectively and collaboratively on any new plans for the district.

“That is my goal because not only do I want to meet with the leadership team members prior to school, I want to see what happens when the action happens,” she said. “I want to be in classrooms; I want to see and listen and I think you have to have time to do that.”

Rieger also plans to move her residence from Maple Valley to Renton to allow for more casual and informal interactions and knowledge about the community.

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