Women Empowered: Part II
Ferndale superintendent puts service above self
March 15, 2023 at 5:40 a.m.
Editor's note: Women Empowered: Honoring Women's History Month is a monthlong series of Q&As with regional women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Part two highlights Kristi Dominguez, superintendent of Ferndale School District.
A little more than a quarter of superintendents in the state are women, according to the Washington Association of School Administrators. Recently hired Ferndale School District Superintendent Kristi Dominguez is one of them.
“Nationwide, in the last 20 years, it’s hovered between 18 and 20 percent,” Dominguez said of the percentage of female superintendents.
Dominguez, 52, was selected for the job in March 2022, to lead the 4,669-student, nine-school district. Prior to being Ferndale’s superintendent, Dominguez worked in Bellingham Public Schools for 29 years, most recently as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
Cascadia Daily News caught up with Dominguez for a Q&A session at Ferndale High School on March 13.
At what point did you know you wanted to be an educator?
A long time ago. I had a second-grade teacher, Ms. Jacobson, who came into my life at a pretty significant time. There was a lot of family stuff going on, and I have a learning disability, so school was hard. It was undiagnosed and the early ’70s, so people didn’t talk about invisible disabilities the same way as they do now. She was so present and taught me that I mattered, so I actually decided to become a teacher then. Really, as a way to give back what she did for me. As educators, we hold most of the hope.
What was your favorite subject in school growing up?
School was really not easy for me, so I can’t say that I loved school, but I loved the people. I loved learning, I loved the problem-solving of learning. I tended to be pretty happy with whatever class I was in just because I had a pretty low expectation of myself. Growing up, I didn’t think of myself as someone who was very smart, actually, but I loved people. So I can’t say there was a favorite subject — I really loved the art of learning.
How did you move into administration, and what have been some of the challenges?
I actually got into administration not by choice. My last teaching job was kindergarten, and I absolutely loved it. I had planned to spend my entire educational career in the classroom. I still think of myself as a teacher first, which is what I love about this job — I get to work in service of staff and students. But I got tapped on the shoulder and asked to consider administration. I really actually kind of fought that. In fact, in my first interview, I told them not to hire me, to hire the other person, because I really didn’t want the job. I got the job. So, I moved into a coordinator role in early learning.
When I was considering applying for this job, I had many people tell me, ‘Oh, you’ll never get it. You shouldn’t start at a district so large as Ferndale. You should start somewhere smaller.’ And the reality is, I didn’t really want to be a superintendent. That was not part of my game plan. But I really wanted to be Ferndale superintendent. I wouldn’t have applied for this job anywhere else.
What attracted you so much to Ferndale?
Ferndale reminds me of home, my hometown of Wapato, Washington. Even the colors of blue and gold. It’s a one-high-school town, it’s a community that is completely invested in its students. There’s a lot about Ferndale that I love, [like] the fact that we don’t measure ourselves by a test score alone.
There’s a few of them, and they’re the faces of some students. When you know that you planted a seed, and then to get to later on see that seed grow into something is pretty remarkable. There’s a few [students] who completely remain in my heart … one of my students now, she’s in the field of construction, and she’s making a name for herself. They’re just inspiring adults, and I got to be a part of that.
Who are women you look up to, and why?
The first woman that I really looked up to was my grandmother. In her early days or being a young woman, she wrote for the newspaper in Wapato. And she was always a strong, strong role model for me. Then my second-grade teacher was incredibly instrumental. Even though I didn’t live with my mom growing up, she and her five friends were quite influential in my life — they were all women who were brave enough to go off to college and get careers at a time when women didn’t do that.
There are incredible women, Dr. Tammy Campbell, Dr. Susan Enfield, Michelle Kuss-Cybula — they’re all superintendents that I call on [for advice]. Actually, when I was considering whether or not to apply to this position, and I kept being told, ‘They’re not going to look at you, you’re not going to get the job,’ I got some really good advice — and there’s lots of research to support this — that when women are thinking of advancement, we often look at the application and think, ‘Do I check all the boxes?’ We think we can’t apply for something until we’ve checked all the boxes. Nobody is ever going to check all the boxes. When I would talk to my male counterparts, they would say, ‘Oh I could do these two things,’ and here I was trying to get to 13. Who we are is good enough, and if we’re a good match, we’ll be seen.
Part three, which will publish March 22, highlights Shayla Francis, chief operator at City of Bellingham Wastewater Treatment.