Wednesday, April 14, 2021
35.0°F

New Wahluke superintendent says he'll always be a teacher

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | March 10, 2021 1:00 AM

MATTAWA — As far as Andy Harlow is concerned, he was, and is, a teacher.

Harlow was hired in February as the superintendent for the Wahluke School District.

“I think I’ve always had an interest in teaching, and at the end of the day, I think I still introduce myself to everyone that I know, or as I meet people, as a teacher,” he said.

Harlow replaced Robert Eckert, who resigned at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Harlow worked his entire 21-year career at Wahluke, he said, starting as a history teacher and coach before becoming the Wahluke Junior High principal in 2013.

Harlow said one of his first goals will be working on a strategic plan, something he thinks the district has lacked in the past. He cited the district’s experience with assessment and academic improvement.

Wahluke has struggled with low assessment test scores, he said, and while teachers have worked hard to help kids, the improvement effort has suffered from a lack of focus.

“Our staff works really hard. I’d put this staff up against any staff across our state,” Harlow said. “The problem is sometimes we’re working really, really hard, but we don’t have a vision.”

Children are placed in programs designed to help them improve, but without clear ideas of how much they’re going to improve, or how much time it’s going to take.

“We do all these interventions in this district over the years, throw a ton of money at these things, but we don’t know what the intended outcomes are,” he said.

Harlow said clarity in setting goals is going to be even more important in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No one really knows what pandemic’s effect on learning will be, he said. But districts will get a lot of money to help address learning deficiencies, and planning will help district officials spend it for the greatest effect, he said.

Planning also is important when it comes to district facilities, he said.

Last month, district voters rejected a proposed construction levy that would’ve paid for repairs and upgrades throughout the district, from a new roof at Saddle Mountain Elementary to resurfacing the parking lot at Wahluke High School. Harlow said the need for a special levy reflected a lack of planning and scheduling maintenance projects.

“We have to have a long-term plan for growth,” he said.

He cited his seven years at WJH. When he started as principal, the school was a little over capacity, with about 475 to 500 students. In January 2020, before the pandemic, WJH had about 650 students in a building originally built for 440 kids.

Wahluke High School has six to eight teachers without classrooms, he said, who keep their materials on a cart and move from room to room. Each of the four grades at WHS has about 200 students, he said, more than the building was intended to accommodate.

Harlow said district officials needed to do a better job connecting with district patrons, who told him the district has done a pretty good job of getting its message out. However, district patrons said communication was coming too late, with too little time to provide reactions and suggestions.

To help address that, “we just start listening,” Harlow said. One possibility is for administrators and Wahluke school board members to make themselves available at specific times to hear from district patrons and school staff.

“In situations where they can just listen,” he said.

A native of Shelton, Harlow said his plan -- 21 years ago -- was to spend a year at Wahluke. He planned to apply for a job working with his high school swim coach, and did, but the job went to someone else, he said. That was the last time he applied for a different job.

“It (Wahluke) is a special place. Whether it was the kids, the families, the community. I can’t explain it. I think it was just the perfect combination,” he said.

Wahluke administrators were open to innovation.

“No matter the crazy idea, they supported me,” he said.

He was cleaning around his house one spring day in 2012 when the WJH principal at the time, his next door neighbor, said Harlow should apply for the job of dean of students. When the principal left after the next school year, Harlow took over as WJH principal.

He said his goal every year was to make WJH a better school in June than it had been in September. And that’s also his goal for the district, he said: a noticeable improvement between the beginning and end of the school year.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Wahluke School District superintendent Andy Harlow outside the district administration building Friday afternoon.

photo

Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

New Wahluke School District superintendent Andy Harlow (left) talks with Mattawa Elementary students Friday.

photo

Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Wahluke School District superintendent Andy Harlow outside the district administration building Friday.