Ranells: Most important in my heart is always kids

Mary Ann Ranells repeatedly told about 40 West Ada School District staff members she is driven by doing what’s best for kids. She said she would not be satisfied with 90 percent of kids achieving proficiency – only all kids.

“Every decision we make is what’s best for kids,” she said. “You do that (if you) believe in the best in people, build on their strengths and create a structure so that everyone has a voice.’’

Ranells is the first candidate to be interviewed for the superintendent’s job at West Ada, Idaho’s largest district with more than 37,000 students. The job became vacant in October, when embattled Superintendent Linda Clark resigned.

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Mary Ann Ranells often answered questions with humor Monday.

Ranells is a longtime Idaho educator who served as a deputy superintendent of the State Department of Education and most recently served six years as superintendent for the Lakeland School District. She retired last year to spend time with her children and grandchildren. (Click here to read more details about her work history.) 

On Monday evening, Ranells spent about an hour fielding questions from staff members. She’ll take questions from the community on Tuesday evening. (For details of her schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday, click here.)

One staff member asked Ranells to explain why she would come out of retirement, leave her North Idaho home and take on one of the biggest and most high-profile challenges in Idaho public education.

“Are you kidding me?” she said with a big smile. “This is the most amazing district and an opportunity that would not come along very often for someone like me. It is with honor and respect I’m here. I miss you. I miss kids.”

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Mary Ann Ranells greets old colleagues after a question-and-answer session with West Ada staff members.

West Ada’s teacher of the year, Shawna Exline, started the event by reflecting on a difficult year. “I’ve been saddened with the apparent lack of trust the board has for its employees. How will you work with the board and stakeholders to help us heal and move forward?”

Ranells said: “Most important in my heart is always kids. If that’s true, then the second most important thing is my heart is classroom teachers. In order to move forward, that has to be the focus.”

Ranells also explained she has been doing statewide training with trustees for the Idaho School Boards Association over the last few months, and has learned a lot that would help her move forward with the board.

“I would be very clear about the roles and responsibilities of the board and the roles and responsibilities of the superintendent,” Ranells said

Lisa Leach, a veteran kindergarten teacher, said she is deeply concerned about growing and unreasonable class sizes.

“We can do anything, we just can’t do everything,” Ranells said. “I don’t have a smart answer for you but it doesn’t make sense to me to have 25 kids in a kindergarten class. I would look at what resources you have available and where you put those dollars.”

When asked about curriculum and standardized testing, Ranells talked about her teaching philosophies:

  • Focus on learning (what you want kids to know, do and understand).
  • Culture of collaboration (working in teams to do what’s best for all kids).
  • Focus on results.

“I eat it, sleep it and breathe it every day,” she said.

Ranells said she has very high expectations for meeting all students’ needs. “We have to be able to find a way — whether it’s training or time together or outside evaluation.”

Ranells described her leadership style as tight on some things — mission, vision, values and goals — but loose on how teachers ultimately achieve goals. She called it “directed autonomy.”

“(The classroom) is where the magic comes in, where teachers have the most excitement, passion and greatest ideas,” Ranells said.

Ranells emphasized team-building and “the power of synergy and collective wisdom.”

She concluded with this advice:

  • Avoid the status quo.
  • Avoid pessimists. They are so depressing.
  • Avoid gossip.
  • Remember the importance of warmth and humor.

Ranells will spend most of Tuesday and Wednesday in Meridian touring schools, taking questions from staff and parents and being interviewed by trustees.

“Most important in my heart is always kids,” she said. “We have to make sure we are proving the very best we can for boys and girls.”

An audio of the entire question-and-answer session is available here.