OTHELLO — Whether as a student, teacher or administrator, interim Othello School District Superintendent Pete Perez has been part of the district most of his life.
Perez replaces Chris Hurst, who resigned to take another job out of state. Perez was hired to finish the rest of the 2020-21 school year, and as interim superintendent for the 2021-22 school year.
“I was actually a student at Hiawatha Elementary, was a student at Scootney (Scootney Springs Elementary),” he said. “I’ll turn 50 this year, so I’ve been in Othello schools about 40 years as an employee or a student.”
Perez graduated from Othello High School, and after receiving his college degree came back to town while his wife finished college, he said.
“I started about 25 years ago. My first job was as a paraprofessional at Lutacaga Elementary,” Perez said. “So I spent a year as a para, and the next year I started as a teacher at Lutacaga.”
But Perez said he didn’t plan a career in education at all.
“My initial career path I thought was going to be in health care, in physical therapy,” he said.
But health care didn’t seem like it was going to work out, so he started looking for something else.
“I started coaching a little bit, and really appreciated the energy of young people,” he said. “And had some people look out for me, some really good mentors that provided opportunities for me here in Othello, and it just kind of stuck.”
Perez was a teacher, worked on the district’s school improvement teams, and served as the Othello Education Association president for a year. From there he became an administrator. The challenge of administration was part of the appeal, he said.
“I have always appreciated challenges, and I don’t shy away from those things,” he said. “Also I guess it’s important to note that I had someone tap me on the shoulder.”
Roni Rumsey was the principal at Lutacaga who told Perez she thought he would be an effective administrator. So, Perez became assistant principal at OHS, was the district director for career and technical education and the AVID program. He was the first principal at Wahitis Elementary, and became assistant superintendent five years ago.
Perez said his own experience serves as a guide when he’s thinking about education in Othello.
“I probably knew in the fourth or fifth grade I was going to go to college. I wasn’t sure how. I knew the kids around me, that I was around, they were going (to college) and I assumed I should go,” he said. “That’s been a driver for me, is helping kids understand; at least giving them choices. When they get to the end of our system, they can make a choice. They can go to college, they can join the workforce, they can pick up a trade, they can go in the military. But we want them to be able to make that decision. We don’t want their hand to be forced by circumstances or a lack of preparation,” he said.
The COVID-19 outbreak has discombobulated school operations the entire year, and Perez said that has shaped how he sees his role for the rest of the school year.
“I really have a personal goal of providing stability for the system,” he said. “Because we have been so disrupted by the pandemic, we don’t need any more disruptions.”
The next step will be figuring out, over the summer, how to reopen school in the fall.
“I’m an interim superintendent and there might be other interim employees along the way, but there are no interim students. So we have to keep working,” Perez said.
Summer school will be very important this year, he said.
“We’re getting creative with our opportunities and experiences that we’re creating for kids in summer school,” he said.
When school starts in the fall, Perez said he hopes to apply some of the lessons learned during the pandemic, especially communicating with parents and providing additional online opportunities.
“Some of those extensions and improvements in the system, I hope they stick, they take hold. So that when we do come back, it’s not business as usual, it’s that the system is better,” he said.
Perez received his superintendent credentials in 2016 and said his goal has been to be a superintendent somewhere in Washington.
“I’ve been very clear throughout my career that wherever I go and whatever work I’m doing, it has to be a good fit for me and for (his employers). Right now, this is the right fit for the system. I think this is what the system needs, and it’s certainly an excellent experience for me,” he said.
Perez said he sees the next year as a breathing space, giving Othello School Board members and district patrons time to determine what they want in the next permanent superintendent. Over the next year and a half, Perez said he’s concentrating on making sure there’s what he called a “seamless transition” in the leadership, and in getting back to school. In addition, he wants to increase opportunities for school district staff, and provide a sense of stability.
Stability is important especially in the aftermath of the disruptions of the pandemic.
“It’s really important to me that the system begins to feel stable. I think that stability will provide momentum to move forward,” he said.