West Ada’s new superintendent wants to make Idaho’s largest district nationally competitive

Derek Bub refers to himself as the most competitive person that anyone knows.

This mantra is not just commentary on his previous life in football, both as a player and a coach, it’s about his new position as West Ada superintendent and the district as a whole. The leader of the state’s largest district said he is setting lofty goals for the future.

“I envision this day when people are calling our school district and saying, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing and can we come visit and see the amazing things that are going on.'”

District trustees hired Bub to take over for Mary Ann Ranells, a long-time educator and leader once named Idaho’s superintendent of the year. In her five years leading West Ada, standardized test results and reading scores made dramatic improvements.

Bub, who was principal at West Ada’s Centennial High, was one of four finalists with the candidate pool including West Ada Deputy Superintendent Bret Heller, Kuna Superintendent Wendy Johnson and Sam Jarman, of Alpine School District in Utah. Board Chair Amy Johnson said what helped Bub stand out was his vision for the future, which includes making West Ada students academically competitive on a national level.

Derek Bub speaks during the West Ada superintendent candidates forum on April 19, 2021. Nik Streng/Idaho Ednews

“The world is changing fast and education is sometimes struggling to keep up,” Johnson said. “We needed a leader who is able to keep up with it all. And (Bub) has done that in multiple settings.”

Big praise for Bub came from Centennial parents, Johnson added. Bub’s two years at Centennial were interrupted by COVID-19, and Johnson said it says a lot about him as a principal and a leader if he is able to make a big impression on parents in that time.

Education is Bub’s second career

Bub was raised in Phoenix by a “family of educators.” Out of high school, he was ready to buck the trend and find a career in law enforcement.

“I call myself a second-career education guy,” Bub said, laughing. He graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2000 with a double major in mathematics and criminal justice and worked as a special investigator for an insurance company with dreams of working for the FBI.

But after entering the work force, Bub felt the pull of a career in education.

“I really figured out that I wanted to make a different in this world. A positive difference in this world,” he said.

Bub moved to Chino Hills, Calif.,  in 2002 to become a math teacher and assistant football coach. He took over as head coach at Chino Hills High in 2008 and would hold the athletic director and assistant principal positions at the school during his tenure.

In five seasons as head coach at Chino Hills, Bub led the Huskies to a 43-16-1 record and three Sierra League titles.

While in California, Bub also worked as assistant principal at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga and was the principal of Bonita High School in La Verne.

“I kind of ran the gamut of leadership positions for the high school level,” Bub said.

Bub migrated north to Idaho in 2017 when he was hired as the Mountain View High assistant principal in the West Ada School District. He became the principal of Centennial High two years later.

Bub said his family was looking to make the move north, and he had some opportunities at some Idaho charter schools, but taking a position in West Ada was the obvious choice.

“I think West Ada is an easy draw,” Bub said.

West Ada’s academic achievement is on an upward trajectory

In Ranells’ five years in West Ada, the district saw growth both in enrollment and in academic success. Johnson referred to Ranells as a “healer and a grower” when it came to her abilities as superintendent.

Between 2016 and 2020, West Ada increased enrollment by nearly 3,000 students as the district opened Hillsdale Elementary (2016), Victory Middle (2016), Pathways Middle (2017), Star Middle (2018) and Pleasant View Elementary (2020) under Ranells’ watch. Owyhee High is scheduled to open in August.

In that same time, West Ada produced increases in most assessment scores:

ISAT math proficiency, 2015-2019:

  • 61% to 67% for third grade
  • 57% to 62% for fourth grade
  • 50% to 60% for fifth grade
  • 46% to 54% for sixth grade
  • 48% to 63% for seventh grade
  • 49% to 58% for eighth grade
  • 45% to 48% for 10th grade

ISAT English language arts proficiency 2015-2019:

  • 57% to 62% for third grade
  • 55% to 63% for fourth grade
  • 61% to 70% for fifth grade
  • 58% to 70% for sixth grade
  • 62% to 74% for seventh grade
  • 61% to 69% for eighth grade
  • 71% to 69% for 10th grade

Idaho Reading Indicator, 2015-2019:

  • 80% to 86% for kindergarten
  • 73% to 78% for first grade
  • 70% to 84% for second grade
  • 77% to 83% for third grade

If Ranells was a grower, then Bub said he’s excited to get to help the garden bloom further.

“This is an opportunity, not to fix a broken ship, but really to critically analyze some of the areas that we can grow in and then continue down the path that we’ve been going on and continue to raise our test scores, continue to improve student learning,” he said.

Bub said he wants to take time to get to know the whole district and what the schools need before he considers making major changes. He also wants to build relationships with patrons, staff, students and parents.

“I want to listen — listen to all sides,” he said.

Bub said he worked extensively with Ranells over the final months of the 2020-2021 school year, referring to his predecessor as an “open book.” Bub said the most important thing he learned from Ranells is keeping focused on the students, something Ranells was adamant about in her time as an educator.

He will make engagement a priority

Bub said he will miss getting to see the students as often as he did as a principal. But he plans on being in the schools as much as possible to see the students.

“That’s what fills my cup,” he said. “That’s what allows me to function.”

And being in the schools and meeting with students will be fundamental in keeping the district focused on the educational and emotional needs of youth.

“It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of daily business that has to take place within a district,” Bub said. “But it’s really important to me to be able to get into our schools and remind myself that we make a difference in our community.”

Bub’s plan for engagement doesn’t stop at students. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bub said he wants to make parent engagement a top priority. West Ada saw an increase in parent involvement during the 2020-2021 school year, especially when the district was discussing anything related to the pandemic. This included many meetings where public comment had to be cut for time and protests were held outside of meetings. Bub said he wants to find a way to keep parents engaged at that level when it comes to every day district business.

“How can we bottle that passion for education up and use it in a positive light?” Bub said. “There’s been some really good things that have come out of that community engagement and people want to be part of the conversation. They want a seat at the table.”

One of Bub’s first acts as incoming superintendent was presenting a plan to make face coverings optional for the 2021-2022 school year, following feedback from school district patrons who were upset with trustees being vague about a timeline for discussing masks in the future.

“I think we’re going to hit the fall really excited getting back into the important things and that’s student learning,” he said.

 

Read more on Idaho’s new superintendents:

Coeur d’Alene: Hocker returns to the state where he got his career started.

Vallivue: Lisa Boyd wants to see more career and technical education available.

Superintendent shuffles: Idaho is welcoming 23 new superintendents.

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