Oak Harbor school superintendent looks forward to future in Snoqualmie Valley

— Created April 21, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

After eight years as superintendent for Oak Harbor Public Schools and 14 years in the community, Lance Gibbon has announced he will be leaving the district to pursue other opportunities.

Gibbon said he is grateful for his time with Oak Harbor Public Schools and looks forward to following the district’s growth in the future.

            “I have spent 14 years of my life here and my hope is that the best years of Oak Harbor are going to be after I leave, because we have just started some of the great things that are yet to come,” he said. “I feel like this district is in that position right now for things to continue to take off in terms of the success for our students, the opportunities for our students, the expansion of equitable opportunities for every student and the development of our facilities and our programs that are to come. And I think it is ready-made for a new leader to be able to come in and pick up and continue the great work that has been started.”

Gibbon will be taking a job as a superintendent for Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD). The district’s current superintendent, Robert Manahan, announced his plan to retire after 37 years in public education, according to a district communication. Gibbon was announced as the new selection in March and is set to start July 1.

“I think at this point in my career, one of the things that is also (important) is just looking at the opportunity for a new challenge and professional growth,” he said. “And I do believe I have grown the most professionally any time that I have changed jobs because you learn a new system, you learn a new culture, you build new relationships and that is exciting and energizing.”

Gibbon said he and his wife are now empty nesters, with their youngest son having graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 2020. Gibbon said taking the position with SVSD will allow the couple to be closer to both their sons and other family members.

“It is really where our family is,” he said.

Gibbon, who received his superintendent credential and doctorate in executive leadership from Seattle Pacific University, started with the district as assistant superintendent and became superintendent in 2013. Prior to coming to Oak Harbor, he also served as a principal in the Anacortes School District.

“The thing that I have come to appreciate about district leadership is that as a teacher, you have this incredible impact on the lives of the students that are right in front of you and then as a principal, you have this impact on the teachers that then are impacting the students,” he said. “And really as a superintendent you have this opportunity to really help shape and positively impact an entire system.”

 He said he felt this year has been difficult as students, staff, educators and community members have dealt with the impacts of COVID-19. However, Gibbon said the district’s team came together to find ways to do the most possible for students while still following safety guidelines, and the district was the largest in western Washington to incorporate in-person learning to start the year. 

“As challenging as this year was, with all of these other things going on, I am really proud of the outcomes that we have had for students and the way that everyone has stepped up,” he said. “It has truly demonstrated a sense of a shared mission and focus and collaboration that is honestly more than I could have asked for.”

            Gibbon said now the focus has turned to recovery and he has been happy to witness the continued work of staff to create summer programs focused on fostering social-emotional well-being for students, from swimming lessons to theater.

“It is really encouraging to me,” he said. “And it is inspirational to me to see that here we are, after all the struggles that we have been through over the past 18 months during the pandemic and seeing our staff still willing to push the envelope and do what is best for our students and get creative.”

Gibbon said he felt the district has moved forward and met many goals during his tenure. One of his first goals after becoming superintendent was to help bolster on-time graduation rates, which were at 76 percent when Gibbon took on the role. 

“We set the goal of achieving a 90 percent on-time graduation rate when I first started and a couple things happened,” he said. “One is that at that time, we had just passed a new levy and we were able to expand our support and services for students across the levels, but especially at the high school level, and within three years’ time we went from a 76 percent on-time graduation rate to just over 90 percent. And that has pretty much stayed there since then.”

Gibbon said another key piece of his time with the district included work with sustainability and increasing environmental consciousness. Gibbon said the district worked alongside another organization, EarthGen (formerly Washington Green Schools), and different schools earned different levels of certification. Gibbon said the incorporation of gardens as outdoor learning spaces, especially at the elementary and intermediate levels, has been a key piece of fostering environmental education, alongside the implementations of energy-saving measures across the district.

“We were encouraged by the Department of Education to consider applying as a National Green Ribbon District and we did and we were one of 14 districts in America to be recognized,” he said.

In recent years, Gibbon said the district has been having more in-depth conversations concerning diversity, equity and inclusion. Gibbon said one example of work to increase access for all students was Oak Harbor High School being the first district in Washington to receive a grant from the National Math and Science Initiative to help pay for Advanced Placement tests for students. 

 “For us, it is really just taking a hard look at where in our school systems are students potentially receiving inequitable opportunities because of things that are outside of their control, whether that is their economic situation, it could be their race, it could be their gender, it could be having a disability,” he said.  “And we certainly have a lot of progress to be made in that area, but we have done some great work in, first of all, just removing barriers for students financially.”

Gibbon said he has also been working with others in the district and the U.S. Department of Defense planning a proposal for a bond. The bond will be on the ballot in February of 2022 and will focus on funding the replacement of school buildings in the district, including those located at NAS Whidbey. He said the package will include about $125 million of state and federal funding, along with required local match, to replace six school buildings and provide a replacement for the transportation center.

“That was something that I wanted to make sure that funding was secured, all of those pieces were in place, and we have now got that in place,” he said. “Now of course, it is going to be up to the voters to decide if they are willing to support that. That is something that I have been working on for a number of years and that has really come together this year and I feel like that is in a good place.” 

 Gibbon said he felt Oak Harbor Public Schools offered a unique opportunity to serve the families of those in the military.

“The other thing I would also say I am grateful for during this time here is just the privilege of serving our military community and the relationships I have built with the various base commanders and leadership on base,” he said. “That has been such an important part of our work and our mission here in Oak Harbor.”

Gibbon said he feels as if now is a good time to transition and the district is set up to continue serving students and expanding opportunities. He said the board is currently in the process of appointing an interim superintendent for the 21-22 school year, with plans to find a permanent replacement in the coming year.

“The district is in excellent financial shape and we have done some great work this year,” he said. “I would never want to look at a transition without leaving a district in a much better place than when I found it and we are definitely in a great place right now.”

Looking forward, Gibbon said he feels the Oak Harbor community has a bright future.

“My family and I have had a wonderful experience living on Whidbey Island,” he said. “It is a beautiful place, we have loved our time here. We have made some good friends and built a lot of relationships, so it is hard to make that transition, but we are grateful for the time that we had together and for the work I feel like I have been able to do with the community. I believe that there is some great work to come.”

            For more news and information on OHPS, visit ohsd.net.