For Shaun Carey, everything boils down to relationships.
The veteran educator, who recently took the reins as superintendent of the Enumclaw School District, scatters the word liberally through a conversation.
What about his climb from classroom teacher to a school district’s top job? “It’s all about relationships,” he says.
Offering a review of his first month on the job in Enumclaw? It’s been great, he says, “because of the relationships I’ve started to solidify with the administrative team here.”
And what does he bring to the table? “I like to form relationships. They’re the key to every problem we have right now.”
Carey, who started work in Enumclaw in July, sat down last week for an hour-long conversation with the Courier-Herald.
He joined the district during the most trying of times, when decisions made at the top will automatically receive mixed reviews from the public he serves. Enumclaw, like most districts in the region, will begin the school year as an online-only operation, bypassing face-to-face learning as a way to keep students and staff safe during the ongoing pandemic.
“This is an amazing time to be an educator,” Carey admits, “one of the most challenging times in the history of the United States.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Carey is an “Army brat” to the core, having seen much of the world as his family followed the deployments of his career-military father.
He realizes those experiences have provided a broader world view than some possess. And that can be beneficial in the world of public schooling, he said.
Carey was born on an Army base in Oklamoma but was soon whisked off to Germany. A return to the U.S., specifically to Fort Hood, Texas, was short lived, as the family was again winging its way to Germany. There were other stops along the way before the Carey family settled in Lakewood, his father having departed the military while at Fort Lewis.
Carey graduated from Lakes High School and became a commuter student, living at home while attending Pacific Lutheran University. He graduated in three-plus years, earning a bachelor of science in education.
Professionally, he first landed at Beachwood Elementary School, teaching in the same building he had attended as a child. As part of the Clover Park School District, Beachwood sits on what is now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That was followed by four years at Parkway Elementary (another school at JBLM), where he taught fourth grade, and a year at Park Lodge Elementary.
“I loved evert moment of it,” Carey says of his days standing in front of an elementary classroom.
But fate intervened and Carey found himself heading to the neighboring Franklin Pierce School District, where he taught math and science at the middle school level.
“I fell in love with the place, fell in love with the kids,” he says, and before long was named dean of students.
“I was not very interested in becoming an administrator,” Carey says, but he listened when it was suggested he add to his educational resumé and earn administrative credentials.
With a pair of principal openings posted by the Franklin Pierce district, Carey applied for both and was tabbed for the top job at Elmhurst Elementary School.
“Being a building principal was probably the best job I’ve ever had,” Carey says. He missed the classroom – “there’s a little bit of grieving” – but wandering the halls and playground provided the desired contact with students.
He remembers the experience as, “Getting my kid fix – it keeps you interested and engaged.”
Being a principal had demanded that Carey sharpen his administrative skills and, before long, district leaders encouraged Carey to seek a district vacancy as head of the human resources department. Looking back, he realizes the district’s top brass recognized he “would not shy away from the hard decisions that needed to be made.”
After being promoted to executive director of human resources and business, Carey was again encouraged to expand his portfolio by obtaining a doctorate. That was accomplished through studies at Washington State University, which led to his appointment as assistant superintendent and then deputy superintendent of the Franklin Pierce district.
That’s a position where many of his peers will look everywhere to find a district that will take them. “That was something I was not interested in,” Carey says, noting he had enjoyed being with just two Pierce County districts and wanted to stay local.
AN OPPORTUNITY ARISES
So, what prompted Carey to seek the Enumclaw job?
“The answer is Mike Nelson,” he says, referring to the former superintendent who departed for a post with the Washington Association of School Superintendents. The two had met through professional circles, Carey says, and “I always had the utmost respect for Mike.”
Now that he’s settled in his McDougall Avenue office, Carey notes that he’s impressed with the welcome he has received and the interest shown by the community.
“People have sought me out,” he says, to offer a welcome or ask questions about district plans for the coming year.
When asked about particular strengths he brings to the Enumclaw School District, Carey is hesitant to boast. “That’s to be told by someone other than me,” he explains.
But, he allows that his climb through the public school ranks has helped him develop “a good understanding of school systems.” And, finally, there’s the ever-present belief in building relationships.
A LITTLE PERSONAL INFO
Carey and his wife Tonya met while both were juniors at Lakes High School and “we haven’t looked back,” he says.
Aside from sharing a life together, they share a profession. She was a classroom teacher in the Franklin Pierce School District and now works as a mentor, boosting other teachers.
They have three children: a son, 21, who is a student-athlete (soccer) at the University of California-Davis; a second son just graduated from Lakes High and is working toward a business degree through the Running Start program at Pierce College; and there’s a 12-year-old daughter heading into seventh grade.
Aside from work and family, Carey relaxes both indoors (woodworking) and outside (on the golf course). “I’m horrible at golf but I try to do it anyway,” he says, adding that there’s also time for boating and some travel.
Carey has never ventured far from his childhood home, but has looked at pulling up roots and moving to Enumclaw. “In the back of my mind I’ve dreamed of owning a piece of property that isn’t 10 feet from my neighbor,” he says.
But, for now, he’ll continue the daily commute from Lakewood. “Audio books are fantastic,” he says, answering a question about the back-and-forth travel.