New superintendent picked in ‘divided’ Marysville School District

Zachary Robbins, the principal of Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas, could be the next leader. But first, negotiations.

Zac Robbins

Zac Robbins

MARYSVILLE — Zachary Robbins could be the Marysville School District’s new superintendent — signaling a fresh start for a district that’s seen racist death threats and leadership uncertainty over the past two years.

The School Board unanimously voted Wednesday to appoint Robbins, the principal of Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas, as superintendent. Negotiations are to begin “in the coming days,” according to a district news release.

“We’ve got attendance and racial issues, a divided community, we have severe mistrust and a disconnect with our families — there’s so many different little issues that are all big,” School Board President Paul Galovin told The Daily Herald. “So where do we go from here? I see a whole lotta up. And we really think that Dr. Robbins gives us an opportunity to go up.”

Community feedback collected during superintendent finalists’ visit to Marysville last week suggested Robbins exceeded some people’s expectations, Galovin said. And to the School Board, Robbins’ experience with “taking the good and keeping it and taking the bad and working with it” was appealing, he said.

If a contract agreement is reached, Robbins will take the helm when outgoing Superintendent Jason Thompson’s resignation takes effect at the end of the school year. Thompson began a leave of absence about a year ago, just days after he filed a complaint alleging “the Board of Directors of the Marysville School District — specifically the Board President — have created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment.”

The board president at the time was Vanessa Edwards, who lost her bid for re-election.

Investigators hired by the district found insufficient evidence to support most of Thompson’s claims. In September, the district agreed to pay him $21,629.85 per month until his resignation takes effect.

Interim Superintendent Chris Pearson has led the district since July 2021. He said the new School Board and, soon, the new superintendent will allow Marysville to “rewrite” its story.”

For most of his career, Robbins has served Title I schools, where at least 40% of students come from low-income families. He began as an English teacher and later was a principal in the Boston Public Schools.

He’s the author of “Restorative Justice Tribunal,” a book that shares strategies to “divert students away from out-of-school consequences and restore their standing in a school community.” He has taught restorative practices to school leaders across the country and helped implement them in his own schools.

In application, that means connecting students who may be struggling with social-emotional resources, like counselors, and preparing school staff to identify students who may have challenges and need support, Robbins said.

During his nearly 16-year tenure at the Clark County School District in Nevada, Robbins supervised and helped improve test scores in the English Language Arts department and established a partnership with Communities in Schools, a national organization connecting students with supportive adults and community resources.

More recently, his high school hosted the district’s first town hall to address a recent uptick in violence, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Robbins said his life and career experiences have equipped him to “advocate for safe and respectful learning communities” in Marysville.

For a long time, he said, he has been one of three African American school principals in the whole state of Nevada.

“When I first applied to Marysville, I knew that it was a community that needed to be brought together,” he said.

Around 500 district residents gave input on the district’s performance and what they want in a new superintendent last year through an online survey, interviews and forums, said Kris McDuffy of GR Recruiting, the firm leading the search.

Survey results revealed some district residents felt “disappointed” and “frustrated” with Marysville schools.

Robbins would come to Marysville’s nearly 11,000-student district from a school of about 2,000.

Ray Sheldon Jr., a Tulalip Tribes elder and grandfather of Marysville students, said he imagines Robbins will have a bit of a learning curve.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to prove to me that he can be a superintendent with a big school district and a big reservation in his district,” he said.

During a meet-and-greet in Marysville last week, Robbins told the community he hopes to build up the district’s relationships with the Tulalip Tribes, as well as Marysville business and community leaders.

While a vote was not explicitly outlined on Wednesday’s agenda, Galovin said School Board members came to a clear decision while deliberating Tuesday. Board member Keira Atchley made a motion in the final minutes of the meeting to vote.

The board picked Robbins from an initial pool of 42 school district leaders from across the country and overseas. That pool was narrowed to 11, who were presented to the School Board by GR Recruiting. Board members interviewed five semifinalists and shared three picks for the top job earlier this month.

Chris Davis, a parent of a fifth- and ninth-grade student in Marysville schools, said he wanted more communication from the district throughout the superintendent search process.

Similarly, Galovin said, the School Board was hoping “for a whole lot more feedback than we got.” A majority of the feedback came from school district staff, he said.

“It was pretty expensive to get what we got,” he said of the search process.

Davis said he’s hopeful Robbins is the right candidate to come in, bring the community together and address issues “that have been festering for years.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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