Bend-La Pine Schools chose its new superintendent: Steve Cook, superintendent of Coeur d‘Alene Public Schools in Northern Idaho.
Cook will begin leading Central Oregon’s largest school district on July 1, directly overseeing nearly 17,500 students. Bend-La Pine’s current superintendent, Lora Nordquist, is serving a one-year interim term this school year after Shay Mikalson’s four-year tenure ended in June 2020.
Bend-La Pine board members listed a variety of reasons why they unanimously voted to offer a contract to Cook at their Tuesday night meeting, from experience to empathy. Board chair Carrie Douglass said he fit many of the board’s wishes for a new leader.
“It is not easy to find someone that comes close to the whole package,” she said at the meeting. “(Cook) is a visionary leader who we believe will lead this community out of this extraordinary year … into the future.”
Cook has led Coeur d‘Alene Public Schools, a district of about 10,700 students, for two years. Before then, he spent decades as a school administrator and teacher in Colorado and Kansas, and was also an adjunct graduate school professor for the since-closed Argosy University in the Denver area from 2014-16.
Cook was chosen over Kristina Bellamy, director of K-12 learning and teaching for the Anchorage School District in Alaska. She has held multiple administrative and teaching positions in Anchorage and the suburbs of Seattle and Los Angeles since 2002.
Cook’s decades of experience with managing bonds and levies, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and working with outside organizations made for a solid resume, said board member Melissa Barnes Dholakia. In particular, she praised his emphasis on trying to help his students’ emotional and mental health.
“He has experience in ensuring that social and emotional learning is part of the curriculum,” Barnes Dholakia said. “It’s not an add-on. It’s just as important as the academics.”
Fellow board member Amy Tatom noted that while at Coeur d‘Alene, Cook made significant efforts to help students in poverty. She believes that could help students from lower-income households in south Deschutes County.
“We heard last year, south county needs more assistance, more resources, they need somebody who’s really an advocate,” Tatom said. “I’m really hopeful Steve is going to be the advocate that we need.”
Board member Shimiko Montgomery noted that some local people of color and others “are going to be disappointed we haven’t selected someone with lived experience, that understand’s the urgency of racism.”
She encouraged those people to discuss their concerns with the board and with Cook.
“One of the wonderful things about Steve is his openness about this conversation, to the work before us, and to be held accountable to it,” Montgomery said.
Both Bellamy and Cook spoke about their educational philosophies and goals at a public hearing in December. Video of that hearing is available at The Bulletin’s website.