When Steve McCammon became principal of Fife High School in 1996, the Fife School District was recovering from a 37-day teachers strike the previous fall, which was a state record at the time.
This year, after 12 years as superintendent, McCammon and the teachers union reached a tentative contract agreement in less than a week.
The contrast is unmistakable, say those who have worked with McCammon in the 3,500-student suburban district over the years. Thats why his announcement last month that this would be his last year in Fife provoked both surprise and sadness.
A going-away ceremony at the districts performing arts center a few weeks ago was packed, said incoming Fife Education Association President Kirk Dodge, a junior high math teacher.
Everybody was laughing and crying, he said. That doesnt happen very often. Just having a superintendent stay 12 years that doesnt happen.
The average tenure for suburban and rural school superintendents nationally ranges from five to seven years, according to national experts.
In urban schools, its even shorter about 3.6 years, according to the Council of the Great City Schools. Tacoma has had four school chiefs in the time McCammon has led Fife.
McCammons supporters say his style collaborative, outgoing, kid-focused helped keep him in the top job.
He will return to his Midwestern roots. He accepted a job with the Louisville, Ky.-based Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform.
Its time for a new challenge and home, he said.
Hes been associated several years with the center, best known for its work with schools in the Midwest and South. Hes done consulting work for the center for six years.
And hes brought the Schlechty philosophy to Fife. The center lists part of its mission as transforming school districts from places focused on compliance to those focused on engagement.
McCammon puts it this way: We dont want kids to be inmates. We want them to be engaged. He likes to quote center founder Phil Schlechty, who laments that schools have become a place where students come to watch adults work.
Asking students often whats working for them and whats not is important, McCammon said.
As for the role of the superintendent, he says it shouldnt be one of shop foreman. Rather, the superintendent should be a capacity builder, a moral and intellectual leader.
Danelle Rempfer, who has two daughters in the district, said it was McCammons leadership that first drew her family to Fife from another district. After getting involved as a parent volunteer, she had a chance to see him work.
He knows everyones names and takes the time to talk to you, said Rempfer. He listens.
Melissa Scheumann, who also has two kids in Fife schools, said she got an early lesson in McCammons style. A former teacher in Federal Way, Scheumann was attracted to Fifes smaller size for her own children.
On her daughters first day of kindergarten several years ago, she panicked when she saw kids coming out of the walls in overcrowded classrooms.
I got home and called the superintendents office, she said. He called me back personally. I almost fell off my chair.
He assured her that class size would shrink, just as soon as he could hire another teacher. And he did.
Shes also enjoyed watching McCammon take part in community and school drama productions. Among his roles: a Lollipop Kid in The Wizard of Oz and a cameo as FDR in the Fife High musical Annie, in which his son Kyle (a 2010 Fife High grad) played Daddy Warbucks.
Its all about the kids to him, said Fife School Board President Bob Scheidt. In tough budget times, McCammon has been fervent about keeping as much money as possible in the classroom, Scheidt said.
That commitment shows up in statistics such as elementary class size, which averages 20 students in kindergarten and 21 in first grade.
Its always been a pleasure bargaining with him, said Dodge, the union president. Hes very transparent. He doesnt like to play games at the (bargaining) table.
Its not that the superintendent and the union havent had disagreements. But Dodge said McCammon always has good reasons for what he wants.
The School Board has already named John McCrossin, a longtime administrator in Fife, to replace McCammon. His first day as superintendent is July 1.
On Tuesday, the last day of school, McCammon was at Discovery Primary School saying goodbye to kids, parents and teachers.
Happy but sad is how he described his mood. Its a hard place to leave.
It was a good school district when I found it, McCammon said. I hope Im leaving it a little better.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635