School Board selects superintendent finalists

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island School Board has announced the final three candidates in its search for a permanent superintendent. Interim Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano, who has been leading the district since October, is among the three finalists.

In addition to Plano, the School Board has selected Teresa Baldwin, superintendent of the Washougal School District in southwestern Washington, and Dr. Richard Canfield, assistant superintendent for the Monroe School District in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

The three finalists were selected by the School Board and its consultants, Lee Pasquarella and Kathleen Florio from the Cascade Consulting Group. Pasquarella spent the week prior traveling across the country, interviewing a dozen potential candidates for the position before reporting back to the School Board.

After learning that he was a finalist, Plano said he was thrilled by the news.

"I am honored to be included in such an esteemed group," he said.

Before taking on former Superintendent Cyndy Simms' responsibility as interim this past fall, Plano served as the district's associate superintendent for instruction. He has also served as executive director for school improvement and executive director for instructional services in the Kent School District.

Over the past six months, Plano said he has gained much from his role as interim superintendent.

"In my former role, I didn't have the opportunity to see our students in action with our teachers as often as I do as interim superintendent. I have seen remarkable interactions with students and teachers engaged in learning."

The Seattle resident earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from Seton Hall University. He holds a master's from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a bachelor's in English education from C.W. Post College of Long Island University. A native of Connecticut, Plano has lived in Washington for the past 30 years.

Baldwin, who resides in Camas, southwestern Wash., received her superintendent credentials from Washington State University. She has a master's in education and administration and policy studies from UCLA. Like Plano, she also has a bachelor's degree in English - from Western Washington University.

Baldwin has administered the Washougal School District, situated near the Columbia River Gorge, since 2006. The district includes seven schools and 2,900 students. Prior to that she served as director of elementary and secondary education for the Evergreen School District. She has worked as an elementary and middle school principal and associate principal for high school.

The only out-of-state candidate, Dr. Canfield of Fairfield County, Connecticut, is no stranger to Mercer Island. Canfield's daughter lives on the Island with her husband and two sons, who attend West Mercer Elementary. Canfield said he visits the Island frequently, and has become familiar with the community over the years. He is eager to get to know more about Mercer Island and its school district.

"Everything I've seen so far about Mercer Island schools, I've found to be very impressive," he said.

Asked what he aims to contribute to MISD, Canfield said he hopes "to build 21st century schools."

"My interest is in what I call a world-class curriculum," the assistant superintendent said. "That has been my strength in my own district, and I look forward to seeing the Mercer Island district's plans and direction."

The Monroe School District in Connecticut is larger than MISD, with six schools and 4,450 students. Yet it is quite similar in demographics. A family-oriented suburban town, Monroe was recently featured in Forbes magazine as one of America's "Best Places to Live." The town of 19,700 prides itself on its school system and recreational facilities. Due to its close proximity to New York City, Monroe has become a popular town to raise a family in while working in New York.

Canfield earned his doctorate from St. John's University in New York. He also holds degrees from Springfield College, the University of Bridgeport, and Fairfield University, all in Connecticut. He represents the Connecticut State Advisory Board for Teacher Certification and various committees of the Connecticut Association of Schools.

The Mercer Island School Board will study the finalists thoroughly next week in both public and private interviews.

The community will also have a chance to meet the candidates. At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, the candidates will convene at the administration building for a question and answer session with members of the School Board, PTA, Key Communicators group, Schools Foundation and other district representatives. The session is open to the public, and community members are encouraged to ask the candidates their own questions.

Later that night, there will be a "Meet and Greet" informal gathering at the Islander Middle School library at 6 p.m. This will give the public a chance to mingle and chat with each of the candidates.

School Board members will conduct final, private interviews with each candidate on March 19. The School Board will announce the new MISD superintendent at its April 10 regular meeting.

For bios on all three candidates, visit the school Web site:

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