Rowley bolts island schools for California

Steve Rowley is stepping down as superintendent of Bainbridge schools.

Rowley signed a letter of resignation June 21 that will be formally accepted by the school board at Thursday’s meeting.

He leaves Bainbridge at the end of the month, to replace the retiring superintendent of the Fremont Union School District – five high schools that serve 9,000 students in California’s Silicon Valley.

Sources close to the negotiations put Rowley’s new contract at $200,000 per year, plus significant perks. His annual salary on Bainbridge was $111,900.

Rowley, who was traveling this week, was unavailable for comment.

In his resignation letter, he wrote, “I have really enjoyed being a part of a community that values and supports education. My experience here will serve me well in my new role.”

Hired in 1997 to replace the retiring William Bleakney, Rowley left a post as assistant superintendent for the Bellingham district. With a doctorate from Stanford University, he was said to bring needed perspectives to the Bainbridge district on issues such as education reform.

“He had a strong academic credential that was very appealing,” former school board member Doug Picha said, “and a strong leadership credential within the school culture. The district wanted someone with vision who could implement long-range planning.”

Rowley developed goals for district growth and direction spelled out in the district’s “Vision 2010.” He also moved to make education methods consistent for all district schools.

During his tenure, the district changed grade structure from the K-6 model to the current K-4/5-6, and the kindergarten program was extended to an all-day option.

Rowley oversaw the high school modernization and Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School capital projects. He credited district personnel and parents with gains made during his five-year tenure.

“I attribute the accomplishments made in the last five years to the incredible teachers, administrators and parents in this community,” Rowley wrote in his resignation letter.

But his tenure was marred by problems as well. In 1999-2000, thanks to poor budgeting and accounting and overly optimistic enrollment projections, the district overspent its budget by $750,000.

And, between spring and fall 2000, 11 lawsuits were filed by parents of special education students – more than in any other district in Washington State – costing in excess of $170,000.

A management style that some school board members characterized as “remote” contributed to the perception that Rowley’s leadership was not sufficiently hands-on for the small Bainbridge district.

In spring 2001, Rowley was a short-list candidate for the high-profile job as superintendent for Spokane schools.

The Bainbridge School Board then declined to add a year to Rowley’s three-year “roll-over” contract – signalling that Rowley’s intent to move to another post was supported by the board.

At the same time, a clause was added to the contract of Deputy Superintendent Ken Crawford, specifying that he would become interim superintendent for a year should Rowley leave. The board has since decided to offer Crawford a regular two-year contract as superintendent.

Crawford, who was hired as assistant superintendent in May 1998 by Rowley, has been working in personnel and business services.

He moves into the position of superintendent of Bainbridge schools July 1.

“Except for missing working with Steve, I’m excited to have this opportunity,” Crawford said. “This is a wonderful community with great kids and a staff of exceptional educators.”

Board members say Crawford brings a broad range of skills to the job, combining expertise in special education, school finance and education law with interpersonal savvy that encompasses labor negotiations, and hiring and recruiting, and counseling.

Crawford, who had not sought a superintendent slot because of the peripatetic nature of the job, says he hopes to finish his career with Bainbridge schools.

“I wanted to stay,” he said, “And that’s not my perception of superintendents. They move around.”

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