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Q and A with Central Valley's outgoing superintendent, Ben Small

Outgoing Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small
Central Valley School District
Outgoing Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small

Ben Small has led the Spokane Valley school district for 14 years

The superintendent of Spokane County’s second-largest school district says he will leave public education at the end of the current school year.

Ben Small has guided the Central Valley School District through a period of rapid growth over the last 14 years. He says it’s time to try something else.

Ben Small: “As I looked at and evaluated my direction and where I was going as a leader and what we had accomplished in the Central Valley School District, I truly believe that now is the time for me to step aside at the end of this school year and leave this school district in a really good spot to continue to grow and become the district that it can be and allows me then to take a look at what’s next for me and what I might want to do outside the world of public education.”

Small came to Spokane in 2008 from the Columbia School District near Walla Walla. He was the superintendent there. He has also taught middle school in Walla Walla.

What is he most proud of during his time at Central Valley? It wasn’t passing this bond issue or that levy or opening a third high school, Ridgeline. He cites the relationships built between the school district and the community.

Ben Small: “Things that seem small, like working to start the PACE program, Partners Advancing Character Education, which has grown and continued to be a vital program, not only in our district, but in districts in this region. Something as simple as the PACE program, which is built on solid relationships and community partnerships, have led, I think, to accomplishments such as building new schools and opening a third high school.”

His biggest lesson learned?

Ben Small: “In February 2011, we failed a bond miserably. Part of that was the economy. Part of it, too, was that I hadn’t heard the song beneath the music. I didn’t hear the words. What the words, what people were telling me is that we support our schools but we can’t right now. I learned a lot from that. I learned a lot to listen deeper. And it was four years later that we ran our bond and passed it, in 2015, that really launched the momentum for taking care of capacity and quality of educational learning environments in our schools. But it was because of myself, our team, really digging deeper and listening.”

Now he’s leaving public education for some as-yet unknown career opportunity. He says the job of school superintendent is different than it was when he first took over at CV. The pandemic is responsible for part of that.

Ben Small: “People have always wanted school district superintendents and leaders to be pragmatic, to present plans, to be accountable to those plans, to create a vision and look forward in that vision. I think, certainly, political climates have changed over my 14 years here, but the work is still done one relationship at a time. I think that will always be true for the superintendency and I would give that advice to anyone stepping into the role. We have to make sure that we are not just here to make decisions. We’re here to make decisions and work hard to move those decisions into reality. It is harder with the amount of social media. It is harder to bring people to consensus today than it was 14 years ago. At the same time, it still comes back to that relationship, that relationship piece.”

Ben Small says he and his family will continue to live in Spokane. The district says its school board will meet this week to start the process of replacing him.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.