SVSD board address sudden departure of district superintendent

Board members cited lack of focus on “teaching and learning” as reasoning for separation.

Members of the Snoqualmie Valley School District board of directors told the community this week the decision to part ways with its superintendent was due to his lack of focus on teaching and learning.

That reasoning came in a scathing 640-word letter sent to district families where the school board offered mostly vague insights into its sudden decision to ask for the resignation of Superintendent Lance Gibbon mid-way through the school year.

“This had nothing to do with someone stepping on someone’s turf or a coup,” Board President Melissa Johnson said at a meeting Dec. 8. “This was not a good fit for our district and not a good fit for achieving our mission and vision — and teaching and learning.”

The letter, signed by Johnson on behalf of the board, comes after Gibbon was placed on leave in September. His official separation came last month, less than two years after he was hired.

Concerns arose immediately with Gibbon’s leadership skills, the letter says, “particularly his perceived focus on matters of his public persona rather than attending to the substance of teaching and learning.”

A lack of focus on “teaching and learning” was referenced twice in the letter as a reason for Gibbon’s dismissal. School board members reiterated that reasoning again at a board meeting on Dec. 8.

Board members also pushed back against claims that their decision to seperate with Gibbon, who has a background in music education, was over a difference in support for art, music and sports programs.

“That is absolutely unrelated to this,” said Carolyn Simpson, another board member. “Dr. Gibbon was not as focused on teaching and learning as we would have expected a superintendent to be.”

Both Johnson and a district spokesperson declined to make additional comments to the Valley Record.

The letter goes on to say that Gibbon demonstrated a lack of engagement with district leadership. The board said it was concerned his actions would lead to a significant loss of staff, if not addressed. Board members said the situation with Gibbon continued to worsen, even following a mid-year performance review.

A settlement was reached for Gibbon’s resignation, according to the letter. He officially left the district on Nov. 15.

The need for a settlement and quick departure, the letter said, “speaks to the seriousness of our concerns about the amount of damage we felt that Dr. Gibbon could have done had he been allowed to stay.”

Gibbon took over as the superintendent of SVSD just months prior to the 2021-2022 school year, overseeing the return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. He replaced a retiring Rob Manahan, who served three years before stepping down for health reasons.

Prior to his time at SVSD, Gibbon had nearly 30 years of experience working in education, including eight years as superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District.

In an email to the Valley Record, Gibbon said while he respects the board’s right to choose its own leadership, he noted it was “disappointing that the board chose to resort to allegations and personal issues” after they had “already reached an agreement for an amicable separation.”

Gibbon said it is not unusual for superintendents and school boards to have differences in philosophies, acknowledging his priorities and style were not in line with what the board wanted. He said it is best for him to move on and not be a distraction to the district or its students.

He went on to say it a privilege to serve the students, staff and families in the Snoqualmie Valley, calling the work he has done consistent with his well-documented track record in public education.

“I will always value the relationships and accomplishments we made during my time as superintendent in Snoqualmie Valley. I’m grateful for the many people who have reached out to me with messages of support and encouragement during this difficult time,” he said. “This is a special community and I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Gibbon was recruited through a nationwide hiring process, which Board Vice President Geoff Doy said was thorough, despite being done virtually during the pandemic. While Gibbon did not meet the board’s standards, Doy said, the choice to hire him initially received universal support.

“From the board, from the administration, from the teachers, the parent committee, there wasn’t a single dissenting voice in that process,” he said.

Gibbon was replaced by interim superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt, who was unanimously appointed by the board in September and sworn in a month later.

Schlotfeldt has been with SVSD for nearly three decades, beginning his career as a teacher at Fall City Elementary in 1994. He later became a principal and was promoted to assistant superintendent in 2020.

“We’re so glad to have someone in our ranks like Dan,” said Boardmember Gary Fancher. “He’s a great fit for our district.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

Correction: A previous version of this article and the headline included the word “termination” to describe Gibbon’s departure. Gibbon was asked for his resignation, not terminated. We regret the error.

You can read both the board’s letter and Gibbon’s statement in full below.

District letter outlining its decision to fire Superintendent Lance Gibbon.
A statement from former Snoqualmie Valley School Distirct Superintendent Lance Gibbon.