Janel Keating shifts into superintendency of White River School District

Superintendent Janel Keating - White River School District
Superintendent Janel Keating
— image credit: White River School District

White River School District's superintendent-elect Janel Keating has officially taken over the position as of July 1.

In December, the White River School Board handed then-Deputy Superintendent Keating a three-year contract, side-stepping the possibility of an extended candidate search after Tom Lockyer's departure.

“The message hasn’t changed since I arrived 15 years ago as (a) principal,” said Keating, who started her career with the district at Mountain Meadow Elementary School. “I’m here to ensure learning for the kids and the staff.”

Keating said she uses her daughter, a White River High School student who has been with the district since kindergarten, as her barometer. Each school and each classroom has been designed so that Keating, as a parent, would be satisfied with her child's education there, she said.

“(The changeover is) going to be a huge blessing for our community as a whole,” White River High English teacher Karen Fugate said. “Janel is on the cutting-edge of student learning.”

Through Professional Learning Communities, district leadership has made student learning its focus by explicitly outlining required curricula. Students' academic careers are monitored and systemically intervened upon, if needed. Exceptional students are offered enrichment opportunities to go beyond the baseline standard. The process is research-based and data driven, designed to respond to objectively measurable criteria.

White River has seen its test scores rise among the highest in Pierce County in the past seven years.

In 2010, White River elementary schools had the highest state standardized math scores of the 15 districts and 126 elementary schools in Pierce County. Math achievement in all of White River’s elementary schools ranked near the state’s top 10 percent.

Foothills Elementary, one of the lowest performing White River schools five years ago, is now one of the highest-performing elementary schools in Puget Sound and was named a 2010 Washington State School of Distinction.

Keating has spoken to educators across the country to teach White River's methods. Thousands of administrators and educators have visited the White River School District to witness their implementation.

“As a parent I have a lot of confidence in this district,” said Hugh Flint, the district’s Director of Student Support Services. “One of the reasons we picked the house in the neighborhood we did was I wanted my kids in her school. When I see the growth over the past 10 years and her work with the principals; I would be fine with our kids in any one of these buildings.

“My son will be a sophomore and he loves White River High School. He wants to go to MIT and I think he can get there from White River.”

White River High’s 2012 graduating class earned more than $1 million in scholarships, has the highest percentage of students moving on to post-secondary education in the district’s history and one of the highest on-time graduation rates in the state at 92 percent.

The home of the Hornets boasts nine Advance Placement classes, which involve nearly 400 students. Advanced Placement classes are college-level course and exams offered at the high school level. These courses give students a jump on college. WRHS offers AP classes in biology, chemistry, U.S. History, environmental science, government, statistics, calculus, psychology and English.

Last year, 177 White River students took 235 AP exams with a number of those earning high honors.

“The kids, their job is to get a strong education and develop as people,” Fugate said. “The academic focus has really changed. It’s not just a handful of kids taking it serious; they all do.”

Fugate said she believes the change in attitude is directly tied to Keating and Principal Mike Hagadone’s leadership.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I respect her. I admire her work ethic and find her inspiring.

“She’s very supportive. She’s very accessible. She’s very hands on,” Fugate said. “She becomes part of the training. She’s not a distant observer. She sits down with us.

“She helps teachers become more educated so they, in turn, can educate the children.”

Keating said plans to remain directly involved in her new role.

“My work with the principals and staff, that’s just going to continue,” Keating said.

White River Principal Mike Hagadone will assist Keating as Director of Secondary Education and Principal on Special Assignment. The appointment is in lieu of the school board filling the deputy superintendent vacancy.

Assistant Principal Lainey Matthews will take over primary leadership of the high school.

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