For more than three decades, Larry Nyland has led school districts across Washington. The University of Washington College of Education alumnus has overseen rising graduation rates and test scores, resolved conflicts between teachers and school boards, and won recognition as the state's Superintendent of the Year.
Now, Nyland has returned to the school system where he grew up.
A graduate of Seattle's Roosevelt High School, Nyland was appointed interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools in July 2014, assuming leadership of one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing schools districts.
"I have the strong passion that we as a community, state and nation need to work to close opportunity gaps and make sure every student does well," Nyland said. "If we don't close that gap it will be a travesty for all of us."
Nyland retired from his post as superintendent of Marysville School District in 2013 after a nine-year term highlighted by winning the Washington Superintendent of Year award in 2007. After a year spent coaching leaders at dozens of schools, Nyland was attracted by a chance to continue the progress being made in Seattle, where school performance and graduation rates are on the rise.
Nyland's priority as interim dean will be keeping the district focused on its strategic plan and continuing its progress toward closing opportunity gaps and improving student academic performance. In addition, Nyland will devote his attention to enhancing system-wide performance.
"I'll be working on getting the district as a whole to function more efficiently and one of the key areas is special education, which certainly fits with our goal of closing opportunity gaps," he said.
Less than two months into his tenure, Nyland will share one of the district's success stories when he visits the White House for the Let's Move! Active Schools Leadership Roundtable on September 15. He'll talk about a Seattle Public Schools physical education initiative with other superintendents from across the country during the event, organized through the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
Nyland heralded the work of Lori Dunn, the district's physical education manager, to get kids active and thinking about nutrition on a daily basis.
"It's a great success for our students and a blueprint for our district to grow other initiatives where people are collaborating district-wide to achieve our goals," he said.
Nyland earned his bachelor's degree and teaching certification at UW before going on to receive his Ph.D. in educational leadership in 1981. His experiences as an educator have impressed upon him the importance of the UW College of Education's efforts to move research into practice.
"We're in an interesting time, there's more focus and a greater sense of urgency in education today," he said. "There's a need to put research and practice together, and the UW over the years has worked hard to figure that out."
Partnerships between the College of Education and Seattle Public Schools to train current and future teachers, as well as conduct research that moves educational practice forward, are essential to the success of both, Nyland said.
"We have a tremendous need to operationalize good research so that practitioners, once they're in the chaos of the field, can fall back on that research and a strong network of people who they can ask questions and find out what works," he said. "Working with the College of Education is a great service for the school district and provides a laboratory for researchers to figure out what are the most promising opportunities to improve education."
He noted that College of Education graduates have "great teaching DNA" that serves them well in the classroom, and is equally important for those who later pursue opportunities as principals, superintendents or other education leaders.
Nyland is optimistic about the future of education in Seattle and pointed to the tremendous number of people who are committed to improving the quality of education here.
"I'm amazed at the number of great partners we have and the money they are putting into the system," he said. "The challenge is how to best harness all that energy, but there's tremendous potential for what Seattle can do."
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications