As a former baseball player and coach, Randy Russell understands the importance of team chemistry.
These days, the onetime principal at Coeur d’Alene High School finds himself on a new roster as superintendent of the Freeman School District, replacing Sergio Hernandez who served in Freeman from July 2006 to June 2011. Hernandez has moved on to become part-time superintendent with the Kahlotus School District, just outside Walla Walla.
So far, Russell has been a resounding hit, according to administrative staff members like Freeman Principal Dave Smith.
“You see Randy around the district a lot,” said Smith. “He’s very collaborative and supportive.”
After officially taking over for Hernandez on July 1, Russell worked with his predecessor for about a month and a half, discussing everything from ongoing capital facility projects to budget details to the importance of communicating effectively with the school board and community. Russell said having Hernandez there to help with the transition was invaluable.
“Sergio has been a great help in identifying the key components of what the district continues to work on,” Russell said.
Hernandez, who also works as a consultant with the Walla Walla School District, said his replacement “already has a good understanding of the community.”
“First of all, Randy cares about students and their education along with supporting families,” said Hernandez who had a five-year tenure as Freeman superintendent beginning in July 2006. “I think he will be successful.”
A native of Montana, Russell earned his undergraduate degree from Whitworth College (now Whitworth University) in 1988. He was an all-conference outfielder and academic All-American for the Pirates and after graduation served as an assistant baseball coach and athletic director before becoming the head baseball coach.
Russell, 44, and his wife, Shawna, are parents to four children.
Russell would eventually receive his master’s degree and principal certification from Whitworth before moving on to the University of Idaho where he added his superintendent’s certification and an education specialist degree. He is planning to present his doctoral dissertation next year at U of I.
Not long after being hired, Russell began addressing what he called his “first priority” – getting to know the staff, students and residents of the district he would call home. Smith said he has been impressed with Russell’s attention to details – like memorizing people’s names – in his first few months on the job.
“It’s important for him to know everyone’s name,” Smith said.
Russell said the reputation of the district played a major factor in his decision to apply for the position – even though he had reservations about leaving Coeur d’Alene High School.
“Freeman has excellent academics and great support from the community,” Russell said. “It reminds me of where I grew up.”
Russell’s graduating class in the Flathead Valley consisted of 290 seniors. The class of 2012 at Freeman is at 315. Overall, there are 850 students in Freeman, a rural district that covers 150 square miles and includes farming communities like Rockford, Mica, Hangman Hills and Valleyford.
Russell has made it a point to attend a range of civic events upon his arrival, from the Southeast Spokane County Fair in Rockford to a variety of Freeman athletic and cultural happenings. At a high school assembly last month, Russell joined in to sing the lead part of the Scotties’ fight song. Later he was presented with a welcome card by the leadership class.
“People here are real down-to-earth,” Russell said. “They appreciate someone who takes pride in their work.”
Russell said his background – which includes teaching and coaching at Colville High School and serving as a vice-principal at two high schools in District 81 – Rogers and North Central – gives him a helpful perspective on the challenges faced by staff and administration at various levels within a district.
“I enjoy working with great people who want to make a difference,” he said. “We definitely have that here.”