Jerry McDermot - NEWESD 101's Go-to Guy

Story published in NEWESD 101 Focus newsletter, Fall 2019

By Steve Witter

It was probably inevitable that Jerry McDermott would eventually find his way into education. It was in his blood, though he didn’t realize it until his first career was already under way.

Growing up in the Yakima Valley, education was a common topic in the McDermott household. His dad was a chemistry and physics teacher in Prosser, while Jerry was a student in nearby Grandview. 

As high school graduation neared, nightly dinner conversation turned to college. It was not a question of if; only a question of where. Jerry voted for Western Washington University. Dad voted for Washington State University and Mom voted for Gonzaga University. Mom won.

Jerry packed his bags for Spokane, figuring it would be a temporary, four-year stop on the way to an accounting career. Then, four years somehow became 40. 

While the accounting part came true – he was a decade into his professional career before he heard the call of education. By then, he had completed his BA in Economics and Accounting from Gonzaga, a master’s in Business Administration from Eastern Washington University and his license as a certified public accountant. 

His experience and credentials were a perfect fit for an organization he had never heard of in 1990. The organization was NEWESD 101, then known as just ESD 101. 

Back then, it was a small organization whose entire staff fit into a former church office on the north side of Spokane. But, with huge growth opportunities ahead, the organization needed a comptroller to provide more sophisticated financial and accounting horsepower. 

McDermott was the chosen candidate. Today, 29 years into a distinguished NEWESD 101 career – the last 20-plus years as the assistant superintendent for Operations – he soon begins the next chapter in his life entitled, “Retirement.”

While he did not precisely follow in his father’s footsteps, he did leave an equally significant mark on local education. 

The short list … he created accounting systems, safeguards and procedures that were routinely lauded by state auditors; he helped secure millions of dollars in educational grants; he helped construct a building (more on that below); and he created new programs that expanded local services while simultaneously protecting local dollars.

It has been an eventful career, indeed, filled with change in a constantly moving educational landscape. “The ESD of today bears little resemblance to the one that hired me,” says McDermott. “In the early days, some of our mainstay programs were our typewriter and computer repair cooperatives, our film library and cooperative purchasing program.”

While time and technology caused those programs to eventually fade away, new needs and opportunities emerged. "One of my greatest sources of pride is the way our agency has kept a laser-focus on district needs, " he says. 

“As needs changed, they also became more complex. But, our ESD always answered the call. Some of our largest, most successful programs today are ones we could not have imagined in 1990, such as business manager services, behavioral health and threat assessment. 

“We’ve also seen tremendous growth in programs such as workers’ compensation, unemployment, industrial hygiene, fiscal and student records, to name a few, that were once fairly modest by today’s standards.”

And don’t forget his “other duties as assigned.” In 2018, McDermott played a large hand in construction of NEWESD 101’s handsome new Talbott Event Center, serving as a liaison with the architects and contractors. His vital role will not be forgotten. His name is engraved on the plaque at the building entrance.

Yes, he is a highly versatile guy and soon one whose retirement activities will include reading for fun; working out; traveling; getting his hands dirty, digging for garnets; and, of course, spending more time with the children and grandchildren.

And don’t forget basketball. McDermott and his wife Linda, an associate superintendent for Spokane Public Schools, are the proud parents of Molly McDermott, a junior guard-forward for the Carroll College Saints. NEWESD 101 connections even extend to basketball. One of Molly’s Carroll teammates is Jaidyn Lyman, granddaughter of NEWESD 101’s Kim Lyman.

Come December, Jerry will swap his office in Spokane for sideline seats in Helena. He will be deeply missed by colleagues who have appreciated his depth of knowledge, sensibility and always wise counsel. If this were basketball, NEWESD 101 would be retiring his jersey.