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Methow Valley schools name three finalists

Superintendent pick could be made this week

— Three finalists for superintendent of the Methow Valley School District have been selected, and residents will get a chance to meet them next week.

The three – chosen from a pool of seven applicants – were announced Thursday afternoon, following an executive session in which they were interviewed by the school board.

The three finalists are Bob Cooper, Gary Keeler and Tom Venable.

A final decision could be made before the week is out, hiring consultant Monte Bridges said. The finalists will each spend a day in the school district on May 29-31, culminating with public candidate forums in the evenings. The candidate forums will be from 7 to 8 p.m. each day in the high school commons, 18 Twin Lakes Road.

The man who gets the job will start on July 1 and replace current superin-tendent Mark Wenzel, who has been hired by the Anacortes School District.

Following the last forum on Friday, the school board is scheduled to “deliberate, consider qualifications again then come out in public meeting and take action.”

However, the board could choose to postpone a decision, Bridges said.

Venable, 44, is currently the deputy superintendent in the Bellingham School District. He will meet with the community on Wednesday, May 29.

Keeler, 58, will return to the Methow Valley to meet the community on Thursday, May 30.

His most recent job was as the Bear Creek Elementary School principal in the Northshore School District, where he began in 2004. The entire district enrollment is nearly 20,000 students.

Cooper, 58, is a 34-year veteran in public education. He will meet the public on Friday, May 31.

The board decided on the finalists, according to Patty Barker with the school district office.

“We’re obviously very pleased,” board member Mary Anne Quigley said. “We feel fortunate we were able to attract three people who are very highly qualified.”

She said the board is looking forward to watching the candidates interact with school staff and administrators as well as the community.

Currently, Venable is the director of visual and performing arts for the South Kitsap School District, which oversees about 10,653 students, according to the district website.

Venable said he has been coming to the Methow Valley with his family for at least 10 years, he said, to enjoy the recreation.

He said he and his family are drawn to “the engagement and the collaboration and the way in which folks seem to contribute, especially in support of education and the children and the community.”

Venable has followed the Methow Valley School District’s achievements for a while, and ramped up his research when he heard about the job.

“I was really excited by what I was able to learn about their work and their accomplishments in this district,” he said.

As deputy superintendent since January 2011, he helps oversee about 10,600 students in 22 schools.

He had been an elementary school principal since 1999, working in the Larrabee and Carl Cozier schools in Bellingham before his promotion to deputy superintendent. From 1993-1999, he was an elementary school teacher; first in Baltimore, Md., and then he moved to Bellingham in 1995.

Venable has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Maryland.

He said the Methow Valley superintendent position is the only one he is applying for.

He has a wife, Annie, and two children: Ingrid, 4, and Elliot, 1. Keeler was born and raised in the Wenatchee Valley.

“First of all, the Methow Valley School District has much to be proud of and offers programs that are unique and creative,” he said. “The district’s mission closely matches my philosophy of education and I would be excited to bring my wide range of experiences to the schools and community.”

Keeler received his superintendent certification in 2010 from Seattle Pacific University. He has a master’s degree in education from City University and a bachelor’s degree in education from Central Washington University.

Before joining Bear Creek Elementary, he was principal from 1999-2004 at Columbia Elementary in the Bellingham School District.

From 1984-1988, he taught third- through eighth-graders at the Monroe School District, and then moved on to become assistant principal for one year at the Moorlands and Fernwood elementary schools in the Northshore School District.

He began his teaching career in 1981, but not for an American school – he taught English as a foreign language for two years with the Peace Corps in Oman, a country that borders Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Keeler would bring with him his wife, D.J., and their son, 8-year-old Gavin. Their daughter, Chanel, 31, lives in California.

Cooper received his superintendent certification from Seattle Pacific University in 2010, a master’s degree in music from Pacific Lutheran University in 1986, and a bachelor’s degree from Seattle University in 1978.

“The vision of the board and school district align with my belief in whole child education,” Cooper said of Methow Valley. “The community embraces the arts and activities as a vital part of having all students be successful, no exceptions, and I want to help guide, in any way I can, this wonderful community in seeing its vision come to light.”

He was a superintendent intern from 2008-2010 at South Kitsap, and from 1998-2006 was the district’s curriculum coordinator. Since 1979 he has taught orchestra, fine arts, theater, architectural engineering, algebra and reading.

Cooper has a wife, Bobbi, and twin 24-year-old daughters, Brittany and Bridgette.

Before meeting the community, all three finalists will spend their respective days touring the school district. They will also meet with teachers, school staff and students, participating in a writing exercise and conducting another interview with the school board, Bridges said.

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