Photo by Nancy French

In February, John Polm was named the next superintendent for the Puyallup School District and its more than 22,000 students.

Polm was due to start in July, giving him ample time to develop an entry plan and transition over from a similar position in Port Townsend. Thus, it was a summer of adaptation and one of the busier summers Polm could recall in his more than 35 years in education.

With uncertainty clouding the start of the school year, Polm and his team quickly shifted gears, pivoting plans and formulating a distance learning plan.

Now, a few months into the school year, Polm still is looking for opportunities to connect with families and students he’s meeting for the first time due to the pandemic. “I want to be able to experience what the students and the staff are experiencing,” he said.

Sometimes this means jumping into a virtual seventh-grade math class or taking time to check in on some of the 700 or so students receiving in-person learning assistance on PSD campuses, Polm said.

While distance learning is new, Polm is no stranger to a classroom. During his career, he taught both music and math before serving as principal at several districts throughout Washington. In 2016, Polm built from the foundation of his bachelor’s degree in music and master’s in education, earning a doctorate.

Currently, Polm is looking forward to a future where more in-person activities are possible.

“We know that our kids need more than just the academics. Our students really do need that social connection and interaction. That’s really what I’m looking forward to seeing in the coming months,” he said.

Outside of a pandemic, Polm said one of the best opportunities a superintendent has is to partner with the governing board and other leadership within the district. The Puyallup leadership, Polm said, is a larger team than he’s been able to work with previously, with each member bringing a variety of talents and expertise to the table.

“I think of the superintendent position as the lead servant in the school system,” he said. “I’ve always tried to have that mindset as to whether I was a teacher, coach, whatever I was, I’m there to serve and support others.”


5:30 a.m. Up for some early email and coffee in my home office, with my Seattle Mariners bobblehead collection to keep me company.


8 a.m. At the office in downtown Puyallup, I attend a morning meeting with executive assistant Beth Kerrick.


9 a.m. Sometimes, I sit in on a virtual class or two for one of our districtʼs schools.


10 a.m. I journey out to complete a site visit at the South Hill campus and Kessler Center, scheduled to open in fall 2021.


11 a.m. Online team meetings with the superintendentʼs cabinet and other staff — canʼt wait until we can all meet in person.


Noon On another meeting, this time with other Pierce County superintendents — lunch is included.


1 p.m. I record a video for a message, something I do often for staff or community members.


2 p.m. Next up, I meet with Corine Pennington, assistant superintendent for business and support services.


3 p.m. Dropping by one of our schools to see some in-person students depart on the bus.


3:30 p.m. It was my privilege to present a National Blue Ribbon School Award to Ridgecrest Elementary staff and principal Michelle Fox.


4:30 p.m. Jogging for exercise around the neighborhood near Sunrise Parkway with a view of beautiful Mount Rainier.


6 p.m. Getting to hold my grandson, Jack, who lives nearby — a future Puyallup student.