CHOOSING A SUPER: Lester Herndon

Lester 'Flip' Herndon
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Flip Herndon, as he likes to be called, interviewed in the district on Tuesday. He is the superintendent of Bremerton schools.

He has 20 years of experience in education, with credentials from Whitman College, Harvard University, Rutgers University and the University of Washington, where Herndon received his doctorate of education and superintendent certification. Herndon was given his nickname by his father, who was an Army drill sergeant during Vietnam, when he said new recruits were called “junior flips.” Herndon is also a junior.

Why this job in Renton?

The district appeals to Herndon because he loves the size. It’s bigger than Bremerton and smaller than Tacoma, he said.

In his current position he manages about 5,000 students in Bremerton, but in Tacoma, where he was an assistant superintendent, there were around 28,500 students.

Herndon said he loves options or choices of schools at different levels within the district. He is also appreciates the demographics of the community and the fact that Renton is a part of the Road Map consortium. That group is a collection of schools that received a $40 million federal grant to improve education in South King County.

What about your experience prepares you for Renton’s diversity?

Herndon cites his experience in Tacoma, which is a diverse city, and also his student teaching experience in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. He also mentions his biracial heritage, with parents from two different backgrounds. Herndon’s grandparents also adopted about 55 foster children during the 1950s and 1960s, some from Korean orphanages, so he said he was raised around different languages.

“Renton definitely’s got some diverse communities, which is great,” he said. “I’ve been driving around for the past week or so and seeing in every community people coming out and really taking part in the schools and feeling comfortable walking down the streets.”

Herndon said he looks forward to getting to know the communities he’s not familiar with yet.

What skills do you bring to Renton?

“My role really as superintendent is to work with the board and make sure that they’re informed because they’re really representing the community at large,” Herndon said. “People voted for them to make sure the direction of the school district is going the right way. My job as superintendent is to make sure that I’m filling those goals that the board has.”

Herndon’s approach also focuses on systems, allocating resources and making sure goals are achieved. He breaks down goals into student achievement, facilities and infrastructure.

Herndon’s main goal is to make sure that students are well-prepared to handle whatever they choose to pursue after their secondary education. He realizes that goals are never done because student and staff populations are dynamic or ever-changing, he said.

How would you improve math and science achievement in the district?

Herndon feels Renton has some programs that are working well in these areas, but taking another look at programs in-depth could lead to improvement.

“I think that having a focus on that, that’s well-rounded, looking at programs that have been successful, investing in the professional development of teachers that’s how you’re going to be successful,” he said.

Herndon used Bremerton’s STEM school, where students have science and math every day at the elementary school level as an example of a successful program.

“We’ve seen the gains, I think, because the staff was empowered to create a curriculum that’s going to work for them.”

What’s the last book you’ve read?

Herndon is a non-fiction reader and the last book he read was about training and dieting for a triathlon. He’s quick to point out the last book related to education he read was a book about teaching with poverty or poor kids in mind.

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