The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Brent Freeman takes reins of school district

 

August 16, 2018

Brent Freeman is the new superintendent of the Wahkiakum School District.

Brent Freeman's daring dreams have led to an interesting, fulfilling life.

Now he hopes to help local students do that too, in his new role as superintendent of Wahkiakum School District.

Freeman grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, the son of a professor of sociology, political science and international development. His father also worked for the Kennedy administration, helping to set up the Peace Corps in Nepal.

"I grew up in this very international environment," Freeman said. "I traveled to Pakistan with my father in 1976, which was my first real experience overseas."

They spent a month and a half in Pakistan, then stopped in Iran, Turkey, and Germany before heading home.

Three years later, his family would sail around the world.

"I was fortunate to have a lot of exposure," Freeman said, "it really set this wanderlust in me."

After graduating from high school, he attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where he met his future wife, Renea, and earned degrees in history, political science, sociology, and anthropology.

Freeman went on to pick up a masters in political sociology from Colorado State University, and got his first taste of teaching.

The wanderlust kicked in again. Freeman began applying for teaching positions overseas, and dreamt of China.

He and Renea spent the next year teaching at a university in Liaoning, a province in northern China, before returning to the states, where Freeman found a job teaching at a university in Minot, North Dakota.

"It wasn't our place," Freeman said of North Dakota. "I was trying to chase a few other dreams. I wasn't sure at that point that academia was where I wanted to be. I knew I was probably doing some things right, because they offered me a tenured position."

This driven, hard working, curious man was trying to figure out how to tackle another dream. It would lead him down an unexpected path that would eventually change his life and make him the man he is today.

What he really wanted to do at that time? Work in intelligence services.

So that is what he set about doing.

"I was very interested in international relations," Freeman said. "I'd had a lot of exposure to Asia and was fascinated by Asia. I didn't want to be a history professor, but foreign policy was an interest.

He applied to the state department, but there weren't many jobs available.

"The year I tested, there were like 33,000 people that tested. Only 200 moved on to interviews," Freeman said.

Dreams require resilience and creativity, especially when the dreamer is thwarted.

"I wasn't going to give up on my dream," Freeman said. "I re-attacked in a different direction."

He reached out to the military, and with his education and experience, they reached right back.

"I thought it would help grow me as an individual," Freeman said. "I thought I'd serve my time and then come out and work for the state department or someone else."

He didn't expect to fall in love with the military, but that's just what he did. He loved being at sea, he loved the people he worked with, and he loved what he was doing.

While serving in Fallon, Nevada, he realized how blessed he was to be working with this group of people that were truly the best and the brightest.

"I just appreciated how important it was to me that the quality of the individual that I work with makes a difference," Freeman said. "That ended up shaping where I am today."

And why he is here at the school district now.

As initial plans for a short tenure in the Navy turned into a career, he realized that the more senior he became, the more his duties became managerial. It didn't interest him. So he put his name in for a position as naval attaché.

"You are working in an embassy, representing US Naval interests not only to the ambassador but to that country," Freeman said.

There was only one position open at the time, and he didn't get it. But within 24 hours, he got a phone call asking if he wanted to be a naval attaché in Taiwan, where they didn't have diplomatic relations at the time.

Yes! was his easy reply. By now, he and his wife were raising three kids, and the family moved to Taipei, Taiwan.

"Of all the tours, and they were all great, that was the best of the great tours," Freeman said. "I loved that tour. I couldn't wait to get to work. It was the hardest I ever worked, but it was also the single most rewarding thing that I did."

Meanwhile, his kids, who had lived in Japan, and in many places all over the states, were wondering where they were from. Renea's parents had relocated to Puget Island from Toledo years earlier, and it had been a great place for the kids to visit during summer breaks and holidays.

So in 2009, the Freemans purchased a home on Puget Island, even though they were overseas.

When he finished his tour in Taiwan, Freeman was offered a second attache tour in Japan. While there he was able to use his training in disaster relief to help communities in Japan after the earthquake in 2011.

Knowing that the Navy never offered a third tour, hé put in for retirement. But the Navy had other ideas and despite their policies, Freeman was asked to be an attaché in Vietnam.

It turned out that retirement would have to wait a little bit longer.

When Freeman did retire, he had a family and home on Puget Island, but he didn't necessarily have any specific plans or dreams to fulfill.

He just knew that this would be a good place for his youngest daughter to finish her education.

When this position came open, the teachers reminded him of his years in the military.

"Teachers do what they do for the love of it," he said. "You don't join the military to make money. You stay because you are good at what you do and you like what you do. That is a definition of a teacher."

"There are good people here," he said. "It's the type of situation I like to be in. I'm excited about being here. I go back to what I said when I was in Fallon. Every day I appreciated the fact that I continued to work with great people."

Great teachers and staff, and great kids. He knows the school will teach them the basics, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, or critical thinking but he wants more.

"The one thing I would hope for any kid is that they dream," Freeman said. "I want my kids to dream. We need to help them dream, but we need to help them be able to actualize their dream, to develop the tools so they can fulfill those dreams."

And so, his career has come full circle. It began with teaching, and has found him once again, working in education.

Some of his thoughts about his new role at Wahkiakum School District:

"I think the challenge of any school district is that you want to make sure that your kids are ready for success beyond graduation," Freeman said. "We want to make sure that our kids are really well rounded and that they are prepared to enter and be a productive American outside the school system. Whether that's a path of college, vocational school or directly into the workforce."

"The piece that changes and I think is harder today, is that kids are not just competing against their classmates," Freeman said. "They are competing against kids globally. Our kids need to have the type of education that supports them when they get out there. Some kids are going to stay here but others aren't, and they have to be ready for success out there."

"We're special here," Freeman said. "Our size is our strength. That's the beauty of what we have here, and the reason we chose here. When other districts are talking about demographics, we talk about individuals. That demographic has a name. That's a luxury a lot of other places don't have."

 

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