Chewelah graduate Shelley Taylor Redinger readily admits she is not made from the same mold as most school superintendents. Taking the reins of the Spokane School District’s 49 schools at the first of July, she has already been making everyone aware of her unusual leadership style.
“I am not your typical superintendent,” Dr. Redinger explained. “I do not like to be in the office. My car is my office and my smart phone is my lifeline to the district. I take it with me everywhere I go, so I am not at all unreachable. My Droid has my calendar, my day planner, and all the phone numbers I need.
Redinger told a story about how she was going to be fitted with a new desk chair that would be more ergonomically comfortable for her. She said she would not need one, because she would not use it very often.
“My schedule is filled every day. It is set up by my secretary. She controls my calendar. If I want to meet with someone, or if someone wants to meet with me, she sets up the appointment. I do not return emails. Instead, I invite them in to my office to talk. I prefer to meet with people face to face. I usually find that the problem is deeper than what I am originally told. When the whole problem is out on the table, we can start solving it.”
So, what does Superintendent Redinger do when she is visiting schools?
“Every day, with few exceptions, I’m in at least one school,” she said. “I really miss that when I have to be in my office all day. I want to be out in the schools, building relationships and working on the culture of the district.
“I meet with every building staff once a year. I eat lunch once a year with every high school leadership class. I meet with principals, and teachers, and students, and cooks, and custodians. I am talking to teachers a lot. I feel that if I go to their building to visit them, our conversations are more genuine and meaningful.
“I do not want anyone to think that I am spying on them. I am very pro-teacher. I am being pro-active, just trying to help. I don’t believe in merely walking through a building. I want to experience it. And, I want to be visible.”
Redinger said that earlier in the day, she had been given a tour of one of the district’s schools by the custodian. She believes that no one knows the buildings like the custodians do. More importantly, she added, she now knows the custodian, Todd.
Another hat Redinger likes to wear is that of a substitute teacher.
“I love to be a substitute teacher,” she said. “In fact, I have drawings for teachers. If I draw their name, I substitute for them for one entire day while they get the day off. They pick the day and we make plans ahead of time. I get to meet the kids, and I always get good feedback from parents.”
If something is happening in one of the schools, she wants to be invited to it. She attends plays, science fairs, sports events, or anything special happening in a classroom. She wants to be involved in what the kids are doing.
In addition, Redinger wants to be involved in the community. She belongs to Rotary Club and to United Way. This is also a way she receives feedback on what she calls “the pulse of the district.”
Redinger is extremely picky about the individuals she hires in the district office, where she has already filled some vacated positions since her arrival on July 1.
“If you’re just filling a seat, I don’t want you there,” she said. “I want people who make an impact, who inspire, who motivate, and who lead.”
Leaving Virginia two weeks early, Redinger said she was able to get a head start on her new job in Spokane.
“My former school district hired the assistant superintendent to take my place, so I was able get here early and have a head start,” she described. “When the Spokane job opened up, I just had to apply for it. My parents live in Spokane, and my dad and my husband like to hunt and fish together.”
The Spokane School District is Redinger’s third superintendency. Her first was in Oregon, where she spearheaded the construction of a new high school.
“It was a ski resort town,” she said. “I visited all the clubs and organizations in town and told everyone that their kids had a horrible school that needed to be replaced. Coming from the outside like I did, they believed me.”
She was then hired as the superintendent in a Virginia county school district.
“The district was experiencing low morale,” she recalled. “Being in the schools every day did a lot to raise self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Redinger did not apply for the superintendent opening in Spokane solely because her parents live there.
“I had to ask myself if this job was a good fit for me and for my personality,” she related. “When a school district is seeking a new superintendent, they list on their job opening survey the qualities they want in a superintendent. When the Spokane job opened up, I had to ask myself, ‘Is this a good fit for me and for their needs?’ I thought it was, so I applied, and I was hired.
“My mom grew up in Hillyard. My grandfather worked in a grocery store there and later for Kaiser. There is a new pride in that community of our district since the remodeling of Rogers High School, and there has been a noticeable rise in the graduation rate there. There is a huge support here for schools.”
Looking back on her school days in Chewelah, which started in the fifth grade, Redinger believes she had a very good education here. She still fondly remembers all of her teachers and coaches, whom she named one after another, and made positive comments about each.
“I had some good leadership experiences from being class president,” she said, “which helped me become successful. I graduated with the class of ’85. We all had high goals for ourselves, and there were some very good athletes in our class, both boys and girls.”
After graduating from Jenkins High School, Redinger earned a bachelors degree and a masters degree at Washington State University.
“I’ve loved going to school since I was in the second grade in Richland,” she recalled. “After receiving a masters degree in language arts, I was encouraged to get another masters degree in administration. When I did that, doors began to open for me. We moved to South Carolina, where my husband, Darin, worked for Westinghouse. There, I earned my PhD in administration. I was hired as an assistant principal, then as a principal, and then as a superintendent, and here I am in Spokane with my family and my parents.”
Redinger’s mother, Bertha Taylor, was a long-time elementary teacher here in Chewelah. Her father, Chuck, worked for Northwest Alloys until its closure. Her son, Logan, will be in the fourth grade this fall.
Like Logan, Redinger is anxiously excited about meeting the students in her district.
By Geno Ludwig
The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Shelley Redinger, who graduated from Jenkins High School in 1985, is the new superintendent for Spokane Public Schools.