Former North Thurston Public Schools superintendent Jim Koval died Tuesday afternoon after a brief illness, according to superintendent Raj Manhas. He was 66.
“Dr. Koval was an educator in the district for 40 years, and a beloved and respected member of the Lacey community,” Manhas wrote in a statement sent to the school district’s staff Wednesday morning.
Koval recently underwent chemotherapy for cancer, according to Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder, who is a close friend of the Koval family.
“It came on pretty quick,” Ryder said. “It was pretty shocking because he was always such an advocate of health. Cancer does not discriminate, obviously.”
Koval grew up in Tacoma and attended Central Washington University. He was hired at North Thurston as a social studies teacher in 1969.
He spent his entire career in the district, including 23 years at North Thurston High School, where he served in a variety of roles including assistant principal and principal. He also coached basketball and baseball.
Koval was superintendent from 1998 to 2009. During his tenure, the district experienced a population surge, financial woes and major changes required by state education reform.
Through all of the challenges in his job, Koval always kept a positive attitude, according to former longtime North Thurston School Board member Bill Williams.
“He was able to lead people and encourage people to do things that I’m not sure they thought they would be able to do,” Williams said. “He was able to bring out the best in people.”
During a 2009 interview with The Olympian, Koval said changes in the education profession that happened during his carer created better opportunities for student success.
“Kids are at the heart of the work we’re doing, and your success is measured by their success,” he said. “If kids are successful, then I’ve been successful.”
Retired history and government teacher Ed Smith described Koval as “incredibly caring.”
“Whether you were the most important person in the school, supposedly, or a student in trouble, he was willing to listen and go out of his way to help people,” Smith said. “He had just incredible judgment. He was very fair, and incredibly compassionate and friendly with a really good sense of humor.”
Monica Sweet, principal of Aspire Middle School in Lacey, said Koval’s death will be felt throughout the South Sound.
“He and his family have been pillars in our community,” she said. “He will be deeply missed by many, many people.”
After retiring, Koval continued working in the education leadership arena and spent three years as project director of the state’s Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project, according to a news release from the Washington State School Directors’ Association.
He was hired as WSSDA’s acting executive director in January.
“We knew he couldn’t stay retired,” Ryder said. “He was still working in what he was passionate about and that didn’t surprise any of us.”
Koval is survived by his wife, Diane, their four adult children and several grandchildren.
A celebration of Koval’s life will be at 11:30 a.m. May 10, at the Koval Center for the Performing Arts behind North Thurston High School, 600 Sleater-Kinney Road NE, Lacey. A reception will follow in the school’s commons.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org @Lisa_Pemberton