As Everett Community College and Everett Public Schools students walk across stages later this month to take hold of diplomas, that transition toward further education, careers and adult life will be celebrated.
At the same time, Everett and Snohomish County communities also will honor another transition with the retirements of long-time leaders for both institutions and the welcoming of new leaders.
The departures of EvCC President David Beyer and Everett Schools Superintendent Gary Cohn were announced earlier. Beyer’s successor, Daria Willis, provost and academic affairs official at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, was named in April. The selection of Ian Saltzman, a regional superintendent for Florida’s Palm Beach County School District, as Cohn’s successor was announced Thursday by the school board.
The contributions and successes of Beyer and Cohn have been noted before. Among the recognition for each, Beyer received the Henry M. Jackson Award in 2018 from the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County for his service to the community and commitment to local businesses; Cohn was awarded EASC’s Elson S. Floyd Award earlier this year for his creation of opportunities for students, particularly in underserved communities. Cohn also was selected as Superintendent of the Year in 2017 by the state Association of School Administrators.
Both men have been quick to pass along the credit to others at the college and in the school district for the successes that earned that attention. But both are ultimately responsible for those achievements because of their work to create opportunities, to engage and encourage their educators, staff and communities and to put the needs and outcomes of students at highest importance.
“What’s of greatest significance is that neither one lost sight of their responsibility to engage the community,” said Bob Drewel, former county executive and a long-time community facilitator. Both Beyer and Cohn, Drewel told The Herald recently, were willing to step out on issues — even unpopular ones — that put the interests of their students first.
Beyer, with 13 years at EvCC and more than 40 years of work in higher education, retires as the longest-serving president in the college’s 78-year history. He oversaw the expansion of the college’s campus, including three new academic buildings, new programs and the growth of its enrollment to more than 19,000 students, much of that occurring during a period of statewide funding cuts to higher education.
With an eye on serving the region’s growing aerospace and manufacturing industries, Beyer pressed forward with the college’s plans for the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center. When $7 million in funding from the state wasn’t available, Beyer led the effort to use $4 million of the college’s reserves and $3 million from grants and industry stakeholders to open the facility in 2015.
“It’s been an enormous success,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in an email, “with many students starting careers in these high demand fields right here in Everett.”
John Olson, EvCC’s vice president for college advancement, credited Beyer’s “deliberate and thoughtful leadership” during that growth. “His understanding of the role of community colleges is matched with the ability to drive resources toward current, relevant educational programs here,” Olson said.
More than his own college, Beyer also was instrumental in the expansion of higher education in Everett and the region. Everett Community College launched the University Center program 12 years ago, which partners with the state’s regional universities to offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in Everett, then handed over administration of the program when it welcomed WSU-Everett to the combined north Everett campus in 2014.
As well as expanding enrollment, community leaders also praised Beyer’s efforts to diversify student body and staff at the college. Dr. Jean Hernandez, former president of Edmonds Community College, noted Beyer’s elimination of “barriers for the students of color at his college and support for the Students of Color Conference that brings young people from the local school districts to his campus” as well as the establishment of the college’s chief diversity and equity officer.
Cohn, with 39 years in education and the last decade at Everett, has led a growing district that has recorded marked improvements in student achievement and graduation rates, in part, though a school-by-school approach that encourages teachers and district staff to measure performance and evaluate which strategies work best in classrooms. The State of the School Reviews, which invite the participation of community members, generate granular data but also celebrate and share the innovation of teachers and staff.
Even as the societal, cultural and economic makeup of the school district of 19,000 students and 26 schools has evolved with increasing number of students from low-income families or from homes where English is a second language, Everett Public Schools have maintained or improved outcomes, including last year’s on-time graduation rate of 95.7 percent, among the highest rates in the state. Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses is up among high school students, and participation in world languages has doubled.
In partnership with Everett Community College, the district also has boosted high school students’ introduction to higher education through the Running Start and College in the High School programs, EvCC’s Olson noted: “Hundreds of Everett School District students are earning college credit during their high school years, and Gary’s been a big part of growing those programs.”
Cohn also has led efforts that used community notification, participation and consensus to resolve problems. When the district failed to win 60 percent voter approval for a bond to build a fourth high school in the district’s south end and make other districtwide improvements, it was left with a enrollment imbalance at its three main high schools. While there was opposition to some changes, a year-long process with numerous neighborhood forums largely avoided contentious fights, and the school board recently approved new boundaries that will more evenly distribute students at Everett, Cascade and Jackson high schools.
Pam LeSesne, Everett school board member, says that Cohn’s strategies for transformation of the district have emerged as “the Everett Way.”
“Through innovative educational applications, he has worked hard to support professional growth of our teachers, staff and administrators so that our students’ success is paramount,” LeSesne said.
Beyond the educational campuses of both, each has invested time and effort with numerous community organizations and agencies and state and regional associations — including United Way, Rotary, Snohomish County YMCA, Providence Regional Medical Center, EASC, Snohomish STEM Executive Leadership and more — recognizing that all greatly contribute to the success of students.
That recognition of how their students fit in workplaces and neighborhoods — now and in the future — Drewel said, was key to the successes of their intuitions under the direction of Beyer and Cohn.
“They understood the need to spend significant time outside of their office to make sure the community understood the needs of their students,” Drewel said.