MARYSVILLE — The first time Jason Thompson was a schools superintendent, in tiny Newport, his district was so small he could walk from his office to the elementary school. Now he has to get in a car, but he still visits campuses often.
He met with first-graders at Allen Creek Elementary School a couple of weeks ago. The desks were only tall enough to reach his knees. He crouched low to make sure he was face-to-face with the students in the quiet classroom. His voice softened as he talked with a little girl, whose feet dangled as she sat in her chair.
Thompson, 57, was hired as superintendent of the Marysville School District in November. He took over from former Superintendent Becky Berg when she left the district last spring after learning she had a non-cancerous brain tumor.
Thompson has important decisions to make as the district changes. Marysville now has two comprehensive high schools and three smaller campuses. Students have been able to choose which school to attend since Marysville Getchell High School opened in 2010. The district is re-examining how to determine which of the larger schools students attend. It is planning to work with staff, students and parents to address that issue.
Thompson also wants to build trust.
“We need to talk less and listen more,” he said. “I get the feeling that we’ve kind of pushed people away. I want people in schools, I want to hear from our community.”
Thompson grew up near Spokane, and went to college at what is now Whitworth University. His career started in 1986, when he was hired as a coach and substitute teacher at Deer Park High School, north of his alma mater.
Over the years, he taught social studies, math, PE, special education and alternative education. He also coached basketball, baseball, football, wrestling and track.
“Interestingly enough, I’m a terrible tennis player, but I coached tennis one year,” he said.
He later moved into school administration, first as an athletic director and then as an assistant principal.
While working at Pullman High School, he received a superintendent certification from Washington State University.
“A couple of years after, a position came open and I thought, ‘I’ll see how I do,’ ” he said.
He became superintendent of the school district in Newport, on the border with Idaho. The town has a population of around 2,100.
Thompson and Berg met during that time, while she was head of the school district in Deer Park. In 2013, she moved to Marysville and Thompson was hired as the district’s human resources director.
In his new role, Thompson plans to reach out to people here. He’s spent months talking with leaders of the Tulalip Tribes, he said. They’ve gone over ways to make education more accessible.
“We haven’t done a very good job serving our Tulalip students if you look at the data,” he said. “Historically, I think we’ve been really well-meaning and have wanted to do well, but we haven’t.”
Thompson has been learning more about the tribes and their traditional teaching methods, he said.
The district also expects to place a bond measure on ballots in 2020. The money would go toward fixing old schools, but no decisions have been made. It’s important to keep buildings up to date so families want to send their kids to the district, Thompson said. The district last attempted a bond measure in 2016.
Thompson thinks that could be one reason enrollment has declined during the past 10 years. The district loses state money when those numbers drop, which means cuts are made to programs and staff.
Thompson still is under a contract he signed to become interim superintendent. His salary is $199,712. He and the board of directors are negotiating a new agreement that would go into effect in July.