Will Nelson is a new face in town. 

But it will not be long before his will be a familiar face. 

Nelson, chosen last Wednesday as the new superintendent of La Conner Schools, plans to be a visible administrator, interacting regularly with students, staff and the community at large. 

“I’m really passionate about the position,” Nelson, director of equity and student success at Arlington Public Schools and a member of the Blackfeet Nation, told board members during a rigorous interview process last week.

Nelson vows to take a collaborative approach to school administration. 

“You build unity through community,” he stressed. 

Nelson and David Forsythe, an assistant superintendent with Northwest Education Services District #189, were the two finalists among 21 applicants seeking the La Conner position, filled on an interim basis since last July by retired veteran superintendent Rich Stewart. 

“We are looking forward to having Will Nelson join us as our next La Conner Superintendent,” board president Susie Gardner Deyo said after the panel unanimously tabbed Nelson for the district’s top administrative post. “We believe Mr. Nelson is an innovative leader with the enthusiasm to move our district forward.” 

Nelson will assume the reins at La Conner Schools July 1, pending contract negotiations with the district. 

His absence will be felt, his colleagues in Arlington say. 

“La Conner School District is very lucky to have Will as their new superintendent,” Arlington Public Schools Human Resource Specialist Kathleen Kowalczik posted on social media. “He will be missed in Arlington.” 

Nelson plans to hit the ground running in La Conner. 

“In my experience,” he said, “being involved in the community creates surprising and unexpected opportunities for our students. I am excited about engaging in positive and powerful partnerships within the La Conner School District and communities, within Skagit County, with nonprofit organizations. businesses and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.” 

Nelson, who grew up in Montana, will draw upon a unique set of life experiences as he settles into his new digs in the district administration building this summer. 

A U.S. Air Force veteran, Nelson specialized in linguistics while in the military. He focused on Russian, which became his major area of study when he later enrolled at Portland State University. 

Nelson went on to earn his teacher’s certification and a master’s degree from the University of Washington. 

After teaching for a couple years, he left public education for the private sector, serving as chief operating officer for a technology firm. 

Despite enjoying success in a growth industry, Nelson felt compelled to return to teaching. His business and technology background presented new opportunities in the classroom. Nelson found himself instructing web design, accounting, robotics and other tech-related courses. 

He moved into school administration after completing work on a principal’s credential at Western Washington University. 

During nearly two decades with Arlington Public Schools, Nelson has worn a variety of hats as a general education instructor, career and technology teacher, administrator and program director. 

He has used each assignment as a learning opportunity and avenue for personal growth, said Nelson, who shared a poignant anecdote about the time he saw the spirits of a non-verbal, wheelchair-bound student markedly lifted upon hearing music played on campus. 

“I learned something from her,” Nelson recalled, noting his commitment to promoting student equity. 

“I love the equity part of my job,” he said. “Uplifting the voice of students who traditionally have not had that happen is important. Having their voices uplifted helps guarantee they will realize success.” 

Nelson said equity can be measured numerous ways – from analyzing data to listening to the stories of students themselves. 

“Anything we do,” Nelson insisted, “we have to look through an equity lens.” 

Nelson endorses further implementing Swinomish knowledge in the school curriculum. He alluded to the Lushootseed language class taught at La Conner Schools. 

“More of that,” he said, “needs to happen. It will help students feel more engaged and successful.” 

Nelson praised the La Conner district for empaneling student representatives on its school board. 

“We need to know from them what’s working and what’s not working,” he said. 

He is looking forward to connecting with La Conner students and staff. “In Arlington,” he said, “we have 5,500 kids. There’s no way you can learn all their names. La Conner has just over 600 students. It’s quite possible to learn their names and get to know every student.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced La Conner Schools to begin the academic year with a remote learning format, has made it more difficult to forge such personal connections. But all has not been lost, said Nelson, ever the optimist. 

“Everybody’s Zoomed-out,” he acknowledged. “But there are some advantages. We found you don’t have to be in the classroom (full-time) to learn.

Learning opportunities are available through the instructional platforms.” 

Promoting teamwork and common cause, whether in person or via technology, remains the key, he believes. 

“I tend to be a person who likes to talk with people,” Nelson said. “I never want to do anything in a silo. I believe in being collaborative. It’s a very relational leadership style.” 

He becomes the district’s fifth superintendent in six years. Tim Bruce resigned in 2016, after 26 years. Assistant Superintendent Peg Seeling took over for one year. Whitney Meissner had a tumultuous three year stint starting July 1, 2017. She resigned last June. Stewart replaced her in July.