Deborah Krishnadasan stepped down in December after serving her two year term as president of the Peninsula School District Board of Directors, but continues in her second elected term on the board. She has worked with three superintendents, experienced the disappointment of a school bond failure in 2018, followed by a victory in 2019, and weathered the turmoil of the pandemic.
“It has been a busy couple of years. It’s been a full-time job for me. But it is a great way to give back to my community,” she said.
As board president, Krishnadasan served as the primary spokesperson and set the meeting agendas with interim Superintendent Art Jarvis, who was hired on a one-year contract three years ago. “The board’s main role is to, in conjunction with the superintendent, establish vision and strategic plan and set policies,” she said. “But day-to-day decisions are made by the district staff. They are the experts.”
Krishnadasan said she worked hard to ensure the board operated from a place of mutual trust and respect. “We are five equal board members. Our votes are equal.”
David Olson, who as board vice president stepped into the role of president as part of the planned leadership rotation, credited Krishnadasan with making the board a more cohesive group. “She has been an anchor, and gave us the opportunity to agree to disagree,” he said. “An effective board can disagree and discuss and come to agreement. Each member is one vote and at the end of the day you work as a group and move on.” Olson plans to lead with that same philosophy.
Krishnadasan has a corporate background in human resources and communications. When she and her husband moved to Gig Harbor 13 years ago, she dove into school and community volunteer work. She said her role as a parent — her oldest child graduated from Peninsula High School last year and her others are in ninth and 12th grade now — has been an asset. “Being a parent is valuable, to have that connection with teachers. What does that policy really look like? I hear it from my kids.”
Krishnadasan is delighted with what the district achieved with the 2019 capital bond. “Talk about a high,” she said. “In the face of several failed attempts to raise money for aging school facilities along with a growing student population, we passed a bond. And with our construction timeline and ability to maximize a state match to make improvements in two middle schools, we will really have six new schools in two years.”
When the pandemic closed schools in March, it became obvious they provide much more than education. “When we had to close our doors there were so many programs that had to be filled in another way,” Krishnadasan said. “Transportation, nutrition, mental health and counseling services, a safe place for kids to be for six hours each day.”
Regarding decisions around school closure and reopening, Krishnadasan said “We definitely had very strong, vocal opinions on both sides and it was hard to take that in. We were in a difficult situation, like all the other schools. In hindsight, we could look and say of course we could do things differently, but there were things we just didn’t know yet. In our excitement to get kids back in, we might have done a better job about making sure all the pieces were in place before sending out communications.”
Krishnadasan looks forward to getting kids back into the classroom as quickly and safely as possible and is proud to have had the district be a part of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department COVID-19 testing pilot. The pilot data showed that, with adherence to safety protocols, there was no transmission inside the schools. Having the space and staff required to maintain social distancing as more students return will be a challenge.
“With the pandemic, (public education) has changed and there is an opportunity to look at what education is and how we can make it better for the future. How we deliver it doesn’t need to be the same for every person and maybe it shouldn’t be,” she said.
PSD has launched a search for a new superintendent to succeed Jarvis at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Northwest Leadership Associates, the firm that conducted the last superintendent search, has been hired again. “They were very good about involving all of our stakeholders and it was a very cohesive process,” Krishnadasan said. “They have already indicated we have a lot of interest in the position. And hopefully we will hire a superintendent that will be with us for five or more years.”
Krishnadasan wants to continue to work in education, but has not decided if she will seek re-election at the end of her term in 2021. “I need to be sure I will bring the value that is needed. It will be a family decision. I want to make sure it is the right place to contribute to public education,” she said.
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