Cascade, Walla Walla, and North Thurston named School Boards of the Year

Inspect, Identify, Inspire: Boards of Distinction Program

30 Washington School Boards recognized as Boards of Distinction

The Cascade, Walla Walla, and North Thurston School Boards have been named the 2022 school Boards of the Year. These three boards were selected for the highest level of recognition among 30 boards named as 2022 Boards of Distinction by the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA).

The Boards of Distinction application asks school directors to illustrate how their board’s actions and decisions exemplified visionary leadership and helped their school districts close opportunity gaps and increase overall student success. To be awarded, boards had to show a clear link between their leadership in applying the Washington School Board Standards and closing gaps that impact student success.

“All three of these boards showed a clear commitment to supporting student gains in academic performance, mental health, and other areas of student success with decisions and actions that positively impacted their students, staff, families, and communities,” said WSSDA Director of Leadership Development Tricia Lubach. “While all of the Boards of Distinction exhibited effective school district governance and strong leadership, these three Boards of the Year were particularly strategic about using all available resources to make up for learning losses during the pandemic. Each of them provided clear and robust evidence showing how their actions were in alignment with the best practices found in the Washington School Board Standards.” 

Small District Board of the Year

Located in Leavenworth, the Cascade School Board focused budgetary and staffing resources on supporting students whose educational growth was negatively impacted during the pandemic, from the youngest students to those in high school. They established a full-day transitional kindergarten opportunity for 3-4 year-olds needing extra support to be kindergarten-ready, expanded virtual academy access to full-time for any K-12 student, and provided academic interventions for struggling middle school students. The board also authorized a social worker to address mental health needs for the district’s approximately 1,260 students and assisted low-income and rural families in accessing internet connections to access online learning. Cascade’s strategic plan is highly customized to the mountainous community set in picturesque Leavenworth, emphasizing the value of being outdoors and artful creativity, along with connected relationships as part of a quality education within an inclusive environment.

Cascade School District’s board members are: Trey Ising, Cyndi Garza, Judy Derpack, Zachary Miller, and Dr. Mike Worden. The superintendent is Dr. Tracey Beckendorf-Edou. 

Medium District Board of the Year

The Walla Walla School Board, whose district serves about 5,600 students, also took a multi-pronged approach to harnessing resources for students at every level, from pre-K to high school. The board thoughtfully leveraged federal pandemic relief funds (ESSER) to invest in programs and staff focused on closing opportunity gaps between student groups while providing learning acceleration for all students post-pandemic. Particularly impressive was the fact that despite academic disruptions caused by the pandemic, last spring, students outperformed their pre-pandemic peers in nearly every grade for both English and math. The impressive academic gains took place while the board also exhibited leadership in community transparency as it wrapped up district-wide construction as part of a 2018 bond. Additionally, the board steadfastly followed its established policies and procedures when faced with contentious library book challenges. Student voice was a meaningful part of the board’s response to this issue. 

Walla Walla Public Schools’ board members are: Ruth Ladderud, Terri Trick, Derek Sarley, Eric Rindal, and Kathy Mulkerin. The superintendent is Dr. Wade Smith. 

Large District Board of the Year

The North Thurston School Board, based in Lacey, leads a district with about 15,000 students. Like the other Boards of the Year, North Thurston invested in programs and staffing to close opportunity gaps and provide students with multiple opportunities to be successful. They funded a program for supplementary learning opportunities before, during, and after school that nearly doubled students’ growth rates in reading, math, and science. The board authorized expanded implementation of Restorative Practices, actions designed to create a culture of empathy, accountability, and foster a sense of belonging for students and staff. The district also joined the largest federally-funded literacy study ever conducted, resulting in expanded access to instructional time and interventions for students, including in-person, weekly coaching. 

North Thurston Public Schools’ board members are: Dave Newkirk, Gretchen Maliska, Tiffany Sevruk, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, and Graeme Sackrison. The superintendent is Dr. Debra Clemens.

WSSDA will honor the Boards of Distinction and Boards of the Year at the WSSDA Annual Conference in Spokane on November 17-19, 2022. 

2022 Boards of Distinction

Small District Boards of Distinction
  • Cascade – Board of the Year
  • Mabton
Medium District Boards of Distinction
  • Walla Walla – Board of the Year
  • Anacortes
  • Arlington
  • Ferndale
  • Mount Vernon
  • Peninsula
  • Pullman
  • Quincy
  • Riverview
  • Shelton
  • Steilacoom Historical #1
  • Tahoma
  • Washougal 
  • West Valley — Yakima
  • White River 
Large District Boards of Distinction
  • North Thurston – Board of the Year
  • Auburn
  • Bellingham
  • Everett
  • Federal Way 
  • Issaquah
  • Lake Washington
  • Northshore
  • Pasco
  • Puyallup
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Yakima

About WSSDA 

Formed in 1922, WSSDA comprises all 1,477 locally elected school board directors from across Washington. As a state agency, per chapter 28A.345 RCW, WSSDA supports its members with research-based leadership development opportunities, policy and legal resources, and legislative advocacy support. This work is critically important because school board directors build the future of public education by setting the policy, governance, and budgetary priorities for all of Washington’s 295 school districts serving over 1.1 million students, employing about 160,000 people, with a combined annual budget of approximately $11 billion.