Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Welcome to the hot kitchen

| April 21, 2021 1:00 AM

When Shon Hocker gets to Coeur d’Alene to lead the largest school district in North Idaho, he’ll need to bring three key things:

1) Unbridled energy to immerse himself not just in school business, but in the community.

2) Unrestricted willingness to listen, to understand before attempting to be understood.

3) One hell of a flak jacket.

Dr. Hocker, announced Monday as Coeur d’Alene School District’s next superintendent, has the wherewithal to succeed. His love of Idaho in general and now, the Coeur d'Alene area in particular, are apparent. But he’ll need more than these assets as he leads an excellent school district across what lately has resembled an educational minefield.

The pandemic made teaching children even more challenging than usual, and District 271’s handling of the virus, from requiring masks to augmenting class time with virtual instruction, illuminated conflicting beliefs and emotions that will outlast the illness itself.

That conflict is, in part, what convinced current Superintendent Steve Cook to look elsewhere for employment. When the venom got personal toward Cook and his family, all the positives of the job were negated. He ended up with a terrific offer in Bend, Ore., a big promotion with a fatter paycheck in a larger school district. Yet it’s hard to put any sort of positive spin on his departure after only three years here.

Hocker will have part of the summer to prepare for the resumption of classes, but autumn will do more than bring 10,000+ students back into the buildings: There’s an important school board election coming up in November. Already, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee has put bull’s-eyes on all local nonpartisan races, doing its best to make them all political — with more emphasis on party loyalty than actual job qualifications.

With three seats open on the five-person school board, anything could happen. It’s not a stretch to say that Shon Hocker could soon be answering to a board that will head in a distinctly different direction than does the current board. How many of us would feel comfortable being hired by one boss who’s quickly replaced by another — and one that might not approve of you as their employee?

If you think that’s absurd, consider what’s happened on the North Idaho College board of trustees. Since the board shifted abruptly to the right, President Rick MacLennan has felt his job security evaporating while consternation has become the board's bedfellow. That’s neither good for the college nor the community.

We congratulate Dr. Hocker on his hire and look forward to working with him, hopefully for years to come. But if anybody’s expecting anything to come easy, they’re probably going to be disappointed.