To the Rescue: Who Says Chivalry Is Dead? This Superintendent Accepted a Tough Job and Is Taking the Gentlemanly Approach in Dealing with Its Ugliest Aspects

Article excerpt

Larry Nyland, meet your long-lost twin: Don Quixote. Only an out-of-touch romantic would charge in to lead a district boasting a divisive 49-day teachers' strike (a state record), abysmal test scores and plenty of backbiting. Yet the Marysville, Wash., community of 18 schools doesn't view Nyland as a dreamer. Rather, they've fallen more into the role of his beloved Dulcinea.

"Larry is a healer," says Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller. "He's giving the staff back their energy."

Like most knights in shining armor, Nyland shrugs off his deeds. "Scratch me and this is what you get. I bring together people who are passionate about student learning."

Charge!

Nyland knows the upheaval a strike causes. He was on the front lines in Pasco, Wash., when teachers walked in 1979. Reportedly, a Pasco board member still cries when recalling his leaving in 1994 after a decade as superintendent.

Relationships are now the Marysville focus. Upon his July 2004 arrival, Nyland distributed a 3 x 5 card with the question: What should we do to get better?

He also shared photos of his back yard garden shed-a simple home project that became a fenced-in cottage-style shed (with French doors and a front porch) that doubles as a playhouse. "[It shows] who I am and how we're going to together create fun things here," Nyland says.

Miles to Cover

Staff and parent input helped form Nyland's 1,200-word work plan to:

* Maximize student learning results

* Strengthen relationships, communications, recognition

* Invest resources in learning

* Lead with respect and service

Building a successful school system is something he tackled on paper when developing a superintendent preparation program for a Seattle university. …