By Oliver Lazenby
The Blaine school district board of directors voted unanimously on August 12 to hire Christopher Granger as the next school district superintendent. Granger was previously an assistant superintendent at Bisbee Unified School District in Bisbee, Arizona. He wanted to move with his wife and four kids – ranging from third to 12th grade – to northwest Washington to be near family.
“I’m excited about getting to work, getting to know people and building relationships,” Granger said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could stay a long time and see my kids all graduate from the same high school, and I felt like this is a place I could do that.”
The school board made the decision on August 12, after an hour in executive session. The board spent that time reviewing feedback from a round of community interviews earlier in the day. Three candidates for the position spent the day cycling through four group interviews – one with parents and community members, one with school district staff, one with school district leadership, and another with school board directors.
“Obviously it was a very tough decision,” said school board member Todd Berge. “We had three qualified candidates, but it came down to what we thought was best for the district and best for the students.”
Berge, a school board director since 2003, has overseen the hiring of two other superintendents. He said this process included more opportunities for public involvement than the previous two.
All the school board directors called it a hard decision, and several said feedback from community members and school staff helped reinforce their decision.
“The feedback gave us a sense of how other people were seeing the candidates,” director Joan Lotze said. “I think it was more of a confirmation than a swing one way or the other.”
Granger began work on August 19 and was sworn in at a school board meeting on August 26. At that same meeting, the board and school community celebrated outgoing superintendent Ron Spanjer’s 13-year career in the Blaine school district.
Granger is moving with his wife and four children from their home near Bisbee, Arizona, a border town southwest of Tucson.
Granger was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Texas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000.
Granger’s worked in education since 2000, and his goal was always to become a superintendent, he said. He started as a teacher, teaching biology, health and sports medicine. In 2012, he completed a master’s degree in educational administration at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and he completed a doctorate in educational leadership from the same school in 2014.
He served as a principal at several high schools before taking a job as assistant superintendent at Bisbee Unified School District in 2017.
Granger and his family have wanted to move to Washington, and this spring he spent his own money to attend the Washington State School Director’s Association conference to learn about school administration in the state. “I needed to hear current sitting superintendents and administrators talk about what their challenges are,” he said.
In a group interview with community members, Granger touched on topics including career and technical education, uniting a geographically diverse school district, school district finances and connecting with students from low-income families.
Nearly 80 percent of students in the Bisbee Unified School District are on free and reduced lunch plans – a common metric of student poverty rate – Granger said. In Blaine and Birch Bay, the number is nearly 50 percent.
“Across the country that’s becoming a larger issue,” Granger said. “That means you have to have systems to build relationships with kids, because sometimes the only adult that they have in their life that even cares to know them is the teacher.”
Attendees at the group interview wanted to know what Granger thought about the fact that the Blaine school district campus is in Blaine, while more students live in Birch Bay.
“That creates a unique challenge for this community,” Granger said. “But so does having a building already in existence that you would leave half vacant by building another school. I would want to make sure that, whatever decision we make, we did it together so that everybody felt valued. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like the side of the tracks you live on will determine the quality of education you would receive.
“I don’t have all the information right now to tell you here’s the one solution that’s going to make everybody happy, because there probably isn’t one solution that is going to make everybody happy.”
Granger said he and his family fell in love with northwest Washington last year. His wife was adopted at birth, and last year they discovered she had a sister in Marysville, and went to visit.
“It was clear on the 26-hour drive back to Arizona that we were coming back to Washington; that this was happening,” Granger said. “We’re really excited about this, and setting some roots in and becoming Borderites.”