March 13, 2014 | Vol. 117 -- No. 47

Next ML schools leader will be challenged by Veltri's high bar

In Our Opinion

For the first time in nearly 14 years there will be a new pilot flying the plane in the Medical Lake School District, when school starts in the fall.

Current superintendent Pam Veltri informed staff in a March 5 email that she would resign in order to take a new job, July 1, as an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction with the Mead School District. She will submit her official letter of resignation at the March 25 school board meeting.

Veltri will leave Medical Lake after 18 years on the job, first as an assistant superintendent, then elevated to the head of the school district in June 2000.

The Cheney Free Press editorial board congratulates Veltri on a job well done in times that have been trying for education in general, especially during an era where Medical Lake schools had more than its share of challenges.

Medical Lake is in a state of transition with state facilities closing and downsizing. But Fairchild Air Force Base, too, is in a state of constant flux. Its future is spiced with concern over future decisions of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission versus its potential as home for part of the new generation KC-46 tanker fleet.

So in the difference of a day, enrollments — and money — can either decline or skyrocket.

Medical Lake is rare among school districts across the country in that they are so closely tied to an adjacent military facility.

In the days of Fairchild being a bomber base, families had to live close — within 30 minutes or less — meaning nearby communities like Medical Lake and Airway Heights reaped the benefits of having personnel live close by. Now as a tanker base, urgency is not as critical and families can live up to 60 minutes away. There isn’t as much base housing now so virtually all area schools vie for military families once more-or-less guaranteed to attend ML district schools.

But despite this uncertainty, with the controls in Veltri’s hands Medical Lake schools have become leading edge in a number of areas.

The STEM — science, technology, engineering and manufacturing — program just received a $100,000 grant is certainly something to cheer about.

Their requirement of 22 credits to graduate is where many districts aspire.

The athletic and activities booster club is one that many other aspire towards, despite a minimal business community from which to draw big support. They’re always figuring out ways to make it work.

According to media reports, Veltri was elevated to the district’s top job in June 2000. The then 47-year-old Medical Lake assistant superintendent replaced Neal Powell, who had been hired away by Snohomish Schools.

Graduating in 1982 summa cum laude from Gonzaga University with a degree in education, Veltri taught in Wallace, Idaho and Newport. She earned masters degrees from the University of Idaho and Gonzaga, and received her doctorate from the U of I in 2000.

She’s put that education and experience to work solving real challenges.

With her hardhat on, Veltri had to deal with issues related to a major high school remodel. Then there was jumping through hoops to get funding for reconstruction of the former Blair Elementary — now Michael Anderson — to replace the 1950s relic.

When 9-11 happened, it changed how the community at large was able to interact with Fairchild.

Veltri is to be applauded for the leadership in the successful passage of the 2009 bond issue that not only funded the extensive remodeling of Medical Lake Middle School, but also allowed the aging Medical Lake Elementary to give way to an expanded Hallet Elementary.

Add to that a visionary computer science program at the high school that likely paved the way to the futuristic real life venture into STEM. You get to do that when leadership encourages you to venture into uncharted waters.

It will require a special individual to pick up where Veltri leaves off, and continue to move the district ahead. Among the many talents a school superintendent must have, the next leader of ML schools has be good at aiming at the moving target of enrollment, and have a little fortune telling skills, too.

Best of luck Pam, and to whoever is chosen next to sit in the pilot’s seat.

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