Tony Apostle’s last official act as Puyallup School District superintendent will hold special meaning.
He’ll attend Puyallup High’s graduation Saturday, where he’ll hand his youngest daughter, Elena, her diploma.
The moment, he said, will serve as a nice bookend to his career in the district, which has spanned more than two decades.
Apostle retires at month’s end and leaving is “bittersweet,” he said in an interview last week.
“The school district and the community have been very good to me and my family,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we have been able to accomplish.”
Apostle joined the district in 1990, working his way through the administrative ranks. He became superintendent in 2004.
In the top job, he started a tradition of giving lunchboxes stuffed with a sandwich and an encouraging note to administrators on the first day of school. He would buy dozens of lunchboxes and keep one for himself.
The idea grew out of his superintendent interview when he said he wouldn’t do much out-of-district travel. He would stay in Puyallup and pack a lunch from home.
The first year’s lunchbox was a “Howdy Doody” theme, and other colorful choices followed.
Apostle led Puyallup schools during a time of deep state- and federal-funding reductions. During his tenure, the district has cut nearly $40 million, he said.
This school year, the district’s general fund is roughly $198 million. With more than 21,000 students, it’s the second-largest district in Pierce County, behind Tacoma Public Schools, and the ninth-largest in the state.
While growth has stagnated in recent years, it boomed over the two decades Apostle spent in Puyallup. The district had fewer than 17,000 students when he arrived.
School Board President Greg Heath said Apostle’s leadership has helped the district thrive despite lean budget times. He noted Apostle’s emphasis on learning, the strong staff he assembled, his good relationships with labor groups and a string of clean state audits.
Heath also praised Apostle for his energy.
“He’s been very high profile,” Heath said. “He goes to (every district event that he can). He embraced that. I think it’s resonated with the community. He’s given his heart and soul to this district. We’re in a better place for it.”
Mario Casello, principal of Kalles Junior High and president of the district’s principals association, said Apostle set the bar high “and wants us to do everything we can to reach that bar. He’s pushed the district to a new place.”
“He’s been in the district for 22 years,” Casello added. “There’s a lot of history there, a lot of tradition. I think he truly enjoyed this district, the staff, the students and the entire community. He took a lot of pride in it.”
But Apostle’s tenure hasn’t been free from controversy. Last year, for example, some parents and other critics pushed back when the district started exploring a switch from junior highs to middle schools.
Also last year, Apostle and the School Board took heat when the popular Rogers High School principal was placed on leave while the district investigated accusations he broke administrative rules. The board ultimately accepted the principal’s resignation, despite a public outcry that he stay.
Kathy Uphaus, a district parent who made a bid for School Board last fall, said the situation caused undue disruption at Rogers. She was disappointed with how Apostle and the board handled it.
“I don’t want to dwell on the past,” she said. “But I’m happy to see change.”
Apostle, in an interview last week, said he always strived to do what was best for students, staff and the community.
He said he’s especially proud of student achievement gains made during his eight years, including some record highs on the 2011 state assessments. The district also has enjoyed community support, Apostle said, pointing to the 2010 passage of a four-year maintenance and operations levy with more than 70 percent voter approval, the highest since 1992.
Apostle, who grew up in Tacoma, isn’t retiring for good. It made sense to end his time in Puyallup with Elena’s graduation, but he’ll pursue other opportunities in education, he said. He recently was a finalist for president of Bates Technical College.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve the community (of Puyallup),” he said, sitting in his office filled with papers, pictures and a row of lunchboxes on a shelf above his desk. “I tried my very best everyday to deliver a quality education to students.”
Current base salary: $194,400.
Family: Wife Lori and daughters Elena, who’s graduating from Puyallup High School this week, and Mala, a student at Washington State University.
Residence: Downtown Puyallup.
Education: Ed.D in elementary and secondary education from Washington State University; master’s degree in educational administration from WSU; bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington. He graduated from Wilson High School in Tacoma in 1969.
Came to Puyallup: In 1990, as assistant to the superintendent. He then worked as director of elementary education, director of administrative services and executive director of administrative services before becoming superintendent in 2004.
Previous jobs: Principal at schools in the Central Kitsap, Centralia and Kittitas school districts and English teacher in the Clover Park School District.
Family trade: His two brothers, Alex and Paul, are both school district administrators, firstname.lastname@example.org 253-552-7058 blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTschilling