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ESD 123

The welcome of autumn this year coincided for ESD 123 with the greeting of a new Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. Ms. JoAnn Henderson joined the Pasco ESD at the beginning of October, returning to the state from which her career in education first began. While JoAnn has spent the last two years working in Colorado, she is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest or the work of educational service agencies.

JoAnn’s career in education began just two hours north of the Tri-Cities in Ellensburg, Washington, as a special education teacher. After completing her practicum in Yakima and Tacoma, JoAnn’s work led her to a teaching position with Head Start in California, where she quickly moved into career pathways and adult education. Her passion for working with others facing challenges shaped a career of work with at-risk students and transitional adults. The combination of experiences in her early career instilled a strong desire for results-based work, which she has continuously sought in each of her positions.

JoAnn left California in the 1980’s to return to her home in Alaska where she was hired as an adult education outreach coordinator for the Southeast Regional Resource Center (SERRC) in Juneau. SERRC is the only ESD in the state of Alaska, providing numerous services to schools across a region more than twice the size of Texas. While JoAnn began work as an adult education outreach coordinator, these experiences quickly led to others, including the development of literacy and ELL programs for adults, transition services for youth and adults, and alternative education programs. This work transcribed into other areas of instructional support, including grants management, curriculum alignment and integration, special education, and professional development.

Within the agency, JoAnn was promoted to the position of Associate Director for six years, and then to Executive Director (the equivalent of Superintendent) for ten years. JoAnn retired in 2007 after many successful and fulfilling years with SERRC.

JoAnn said of her time with the service agency in Alaska, “We were able to build a really strong team of experts and specialists across the state, and our agency enjoyed a very strong, active board of superintendents, as well.”

JoAnn’s “retirement” didn’t last long, and she began consulting work soon after for the Alaska Department of Education as a district improvement coach for school districts in corrective action, along with a contract with the University of Alaska to recruit teachers for the Alaska Teacher Placement program.

In 2009, a continued calling toward furthering the education of youth and professionals shined the light on an opening with the National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States (ECS) in Denver, Colorado. JoAnn was hired as the Executive Director at NCLC, with a primary focus on two main initiatives. These initiatives included the identification of district leaders passionate about promoting civic engagement in schools (known as the “100 District Leader Network”); and the “Schools of Success” program, which provided professional development, technical support, and evaluations and comparison studies for 19 schools in 10 states providing high quality service learning. While the work at ECS fit JoAnn’s focus on results-based service and programs, the results were further out, and JoAnn missed the more immediate and direct connection found in the work of educational service agencies.

Thus, when the position of Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at ESD 123 was posted in September 2011, JoAnn could not help but feel that her career was coming full circle back to her initial calling. JoAnn had actually been introduced to ESD Superintendent, Bruce Hawkins, eight years ago, and with much of her family living in Washington, JoAnn is returning to a familiar and welcome environment.

The school systems in each state across the nation all have similar struggles and needs; yet, JoAnn is careful to observe a new community and its environment before mapping her course.

“Thanks to my work at the ECS,” she says, “I am much more cognizant of looking for evidence of results before jumping into a ‘flavor of the month’ educational initiative.”
The ESD 123 Superintendents’ Advisory Council meeting on October 13 introduced JoAnn to the majority of the region’s district superintendents, and JoAnn plans to continue visiting districts in the immediate future to observe and assess the unique needs of Southeastern Washington schools. She emphasizes the importance of considering local interests in determining the most effective means of serving each school system. At the root of all work stemming from the Teaching and Learning department will be the focus on assuring professional development is proven meaningful to teachers and the students they serve.

The department of Teaching and Learning at ESD 123 has welcomed a new face, yet the vision remains focused on providing high quality professional development for teachers and support for administrators. Thanks to a successful career centered on combining learning and proven results, new Assistant Superintendent JoAnn Henderson is certain to lead the agency into a new and meaningful future in teaching and learning.

~Molly Curtiss, ESD 123
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