Everett School Board president resigns

EVERETT — His resignation was abrupt and the reason unclear.

Board President Jeff Russell on Sunday afternoon submitted a four-paragraph letter to Everett Public Schools Superintendent Gary Cohn and board Vice President Carol Andrews announcing his decision to immediately step down.

He was four years into a six-year term on the school board.

Russell, a pastor, also reportedly is on leave from Everett Central Lutheran Church, which he has led for 22 years. Earlier this year, Russell was a candidate to become bishop for the Northwest Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He finished second among 15 nominees.

In a Monday email to school district constituents, Cohn said Russell’s resignation letter “spoke of personal reasons for his decision.”

“During the last four years I have appreciated the opportunity to make a positive difference,” Russell wrote in his letter. “At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that at this point in my life, I am in need of change.”

He added: “A time of respite for me is required to restore emotional health and balance in my personal and professional life.”

Andrews is now School Board president.

Multiple calls to Russell seeking comment were not returned Monday. Three of the four remaining school board members also could not be reached for comment.

Board member Jessica Olson, who often has been at odds with her colleagues since she and Russell were elected in 2009, said she didn’t learn about his decision to step down until she received the district email early Monday morning.

Cohn praised Russell, writing in the email, “I am grateful to have worked with and for a board member of Jeff Russell’s caliber.”

The superintendent called Russell’s decision “solemn news.”

Russell had a longtime interest in Everett schools, where his wife has taught middle school and his three daughters graduated from high school.

As a candidate in 2009, he vowed to support vocational and technical education, sometimes making reference to Matthew Crawford’s book, “Whatever Happened to Shop Class?”

He also served as a football coach at Evergreen Middle School and on the Everett Public Schools Foundation.

Cohn credited Russell for his contributions in improving the district’s curriculum, for carving out more time for teachers to train and work with colleagues, and with getting two high school student representatives a spot alongside school board members at district meetings.

“I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness, indeed a tremendous loss, as I share this news with you,” Cohn wrote. “At the same time, I am deeply grateful for Mr. Russell’s years of service as a board member, and I respect his decision. I trust it could not have been an easy one.”

Russell’s resignation came less than a month after voters re-elected Andrews to the board, along with newcomer Ted Wenta. Both races were contested.

It will be up to the School Board to name Russell’s replacement within three months. That person will serve until the next regular school district election. It wasn’t clear Monday exactly when that would be.

Depending on public interest, the board will pick up to five candidates for interviews.

A copy of the district’s procedures for filling a board vacancy says the board “shall individually interview the finalists in open session” and may deliberate about the candidates’ qualifications in executive session. The appointment must be made in open session and have the support of at least three board members.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Jeff Russell’s years of service at Everett Central Lutheran Church. Russell has been pastor of the church since May 1991.

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