Future Focused Purpose and Passion: Dr. Laurie Dent, WA Superintendent of the Year.

In a world where educational leadership demands resilience, vision, and a commitment to community, Superintendent Laurie stands as a beacon of inspiration. Recognized as the WASA 2024 State Superintendent of the Year, Laurie’s journey is one of purpose, passion, and unwavering dedication to student success. What fuels her remarkable achievements? Read more about her driving force, her strategic approach to leadership, and the transformative impact she’s spearheading in the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District. 

Larry: Laurie, Congratulations on being selected as WASA 2024 State Superintendent of the Year. It’s evident that you’re deeply passionate about your work and committed to making a positive impact. Can you share what drives your passion?

Laurie: I’ve always been raised to believe in living with a purpose, to work towards something greater than myself. And this job resonates with my core values of service and leaving a positive impact on the world. It’s about walking humbly and serving mightily.

I aim to create opportunities for students to realize their full potential and experience success and fulfillment in life. Our Sumner-Bonney Lake School District ‘promise’ is to knowvalue, and support every student, helping them graduate ready to pursue a promising future.

Larry: Absolutely. Your purpose shines through in everything you do. What essential qualities have contributed to your success in leading summer schools?

Laurie: I prioritize listening to forge and foster positive relationships.  EQ (Emotional Quotient) is even more important than IQ.  Putting people first and listening to their hearts is crucial.  I approach interactions with the belief that individuals do their best each day. We can work together towards common goals by fostering a supportive environment where everyone feels valued and respected. This spills over into our communications and community events. Our district communications data indicates increased engagement across our social media platforms.

Larry: What are the most significant challenges facing Sumner or education as a whole?

Laurie: Currently, one of the biggest challenges is adapting to the needs of the post-COVID learner, mainly as mental health issues among students are on the rise. As leaders, we’re navigating uncharted territory, learning to adapt to the evolving educational landscape and effectively respond to the needs of all students.

Larry: How have you addressed these challenges in your role?

Laurie: First, we’ve provided comprehensive training for our school leaders, equipping them with the skills to lead with greater awareness of our student population and community needs. This professional development focuses on responsiveness to linguistic diversity, preparing for the future, and building relational trust. Second, we have provided more mental health support for students. We are also using data to address significant learning gaps in math.

Larry: How do you foster collaboration and engagement with principals?

Laurie: We are intentional about building relationships and trust with the principal. We share a joint mission and vision for our students and prioritize working together toward that goal.  Growing capacity is an art and a science.  It starts with relationships and understanding each person’s talents and potential.

Last spring, we asked principals to write down their aspirations to become future-focused instructional leaders and then published those in a notebook.  We now start our monthly PD with small group discussions of those essays and reflections on our progress.  We are becoming a future-focused learning community.

Larry: How have you approached equity in education?

Laurie: Our changing demographics surprised us. We realized we were overlooking the lived experiences of too many students. We acknowledged the problem and shifted towards meeting each student’s needs. Our efforts to promote equity are becoming contagious, with more people stepping up to meet needs.

Larry: Sumner has made some great strides in closing graduation gaps.  How did you make that happen?

Laurie: A high school diploma opens so many doors for students.  We championed an ambitious 100% graduation campaign and issued calls to action with parents and the community.  Signs proclaiming 100% graduation are prominently displayed across our community.  We revised board policies, used competency-based assessments, and trained counselors to help ensure successful implementation.

Larry: Your approach underscores the importance of self-awareness and continuous improvement in addressing equity challenges. How do you ensure that the district remains adaptable to changes and resilient in the face of challenges?

Laurie: Our strategic planning process provides a framework for our work while allowing for flexibility and innovation. By striking this balance between consistency and innovation, we provide our community with a sense of stability and confidence, knowing that our district is continually evolving and improving to meet the needs of our students and prepare them for the future.

Larry: Your approach reflects a commitment to tradition and progress, ensuring the district remains resilient in the face of change. How do you make strategic plans a living document, not just something you put on the shelf?

Laurie: We integrate the strategic plan into our daily operations, with teachers incorporating its goals into their lesson plans and discussions during professional learning communities. By keeping the plan alive and dynamic, we ensure that it remains a driving force in shaping the future of our district and fulfilling our commitment to student success. It’s about honoring our roots and embracing new possibilities for growth.

Our strategic plan is built into everything we do, with weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews. The board calendar shows monthly board reviews, including work sessions and school visits. Focus groups help us identify gaps and improve the plan. Implementation is goal number one in my evaluation.

Larry: Your approach to growing people is rooted in empathy, trust, and a deep understanding of their potential. What advice do you have for aspiring superintendents or educational leaders?

Laurie: Your core values will be tested in times of challenge and adversity. Staying true to them is crucial. Take the time to connect with others personally and invest in fostering trust and collaboration. By cultivating strong relationships and staying true to your values, you can make a meaningful impact as a leader in education.

Larry: Laurie, you’ve done remarkable work building community partnerships. How have these partnerships contributed to the success of Sumner schools?

Laurie: Building these relationships wasn’t easy—it took time and effort, often involving early morning meetings and reheated coffee—but the results have been incredibly rewarding. Our community partners, including organizations like Boeing, have generously supported us with resources and equipment, enriching the educational experience for our students.

These partnerships have become integral to our district, with community members actively supporting our students and schools. Whether collaborating on innovative programs like the Imagination Library or offering extracurricular activities such as sewing classes, our community partners have shown a genuine commitment to the success and well-being of our students.

Larry: It sounds like you’ve created a community where everyone is invested in each other’s success.  Laurie, as a superintendent, how do you maintain balance and stay grounded amidst the demands of your role?

Laurie: If you’re going to get into this job, you have to have a strong faith and know that God will get you through it. When faced with tough challenges, you must say, “Okay, I’m about to learn something. It will be a challenge, but we’ll get through it.”

Larry: Laurie, you have so many amazing things to be proud of and are leaving a great legacy. Your dedication to listening and learning from others is truly commendable. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Laurie.

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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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