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Kent school top brass finding new jobs, retiring: Why?

Becky Hanks, the Kent School District's longtime spokesperson, has retired after three decades of serving the Kent School District.

Her stated reason was to take the pace of her life down a few notches.

"I want to go play," Hanks said, when asked about her reasons for leaving. "It's been a great life but I'm gonna explore other aspects of it."

But Hanks isn't the only high-level official decamping the school district this summer.

The district also has lost Finance Director John Knutson, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Fred High, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Larry Minor and several other high-ranking administrative staffers.

Hanks and High retired. Knutson left to take a position with the Puyallup School District. Due to summer hours, it wasn't possible to contact district headquarters regarding Miner's departure, other than a person at the front desk who said Miner no longer worked with the district.

Is there some kind of pattern here?

Kent Schools Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas called the departures part of the district's job-attrition rate, saying that in his perspective it wasn't unusual.

"It's not atypical, from my experience," said Vargas, who is a year into his post as the district's head administrator.

"You might see it coming more in waves from time to time," Vargas said, adding the fluctuating economy is plahing a part in the ever-shifting employment landscape within school districts.

"From time to time you see these shifts occur."

But new leadership can bring about departures, too.

"I don't know if I'd call it a red flag," Knutson said of the departures, during an interview his fourth day of the job as executive director for business services for Puyallup.

But with new leadership (as in a new superintendent), "it happens," he said.

And sometimes, it's not a bad thing, he added.

"Sometimes shaking the rug a bit can get things accomplished."

Knutson didn't make it sound as if he left because he was dissatisfied, but that he was taking a position that brought more opportunities for advancement.

"I think there's some opportunities for moving up that I wouldn't have in Kent," he said, noting that his supervisor in Puyallup would be needing additional support from him, as parts of her job responsibilities change, thus broadening his job duties.

Knutson, who weathered a contentious teachers' strike last year, and who worked through an anxious budgeting process this year with Kent, said the heat is just part of the job, and not endemic to one district.

"It kind of goes with the territory," he said.

Knutson also said the flow of employees between local districts in the area does happen frequently, because the community is quite small, and everyone knows everybody else.

"I've known some of the people here (in Puyallup) for many years," he said.

Hanks framed her departure on a positive note as well. But she did indicate a sense of being tapped out.

"I'm 100 percent behind the initiatives Dr. Vargas has," she said. "He is a real go getter and I'm a go getter too, Between the two of us, it's almost too much."

Hanks, who worked under three superintendents in Kent before Vargas, said she could have retired three years ago, and finally decided now was the time.

"I'm thrilled about the work he's doing, but I've decided now is the time to play," she said.

Vargas is, in fact, changing things around in Kent, including crafting a new administrative approach for the district.

Part of that will involve administrative teams going into the schools to work in what he called a "shoulder to wheel" approach to bring administration and educators together.

"We moved to a support-team model," he said, noting they've already formed teams and are preparing for a new school year using the model.

The Kent Reporter will have additional information to add to this story in the days ahead.

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