WOU in the News: Who Will Lead Our Schools?

An opportunity to meet and greet the remaining candidates for Gervais School District superintendent drew dozens to the district’s elementary school Thursday, Feb. 28.

Attendees with an appetite enjoyed a modest dinner, and seconds if they liked, prior to being entertained by successive performances from each of a trio of educators vying to lead the community’s schools.

GSD School Board will select its choice between Interim Jefferson Superintendent Brad Capener, Silver Falls School District Assistant Superintendent Dandy Stevens and GSD Director of Special Services and Middle School Principal Ann O’Connell. The board is expected to make and announce that decision this month, but meet-and-greet goers also had a voice as each was given a ballot and asked to submit it following the event.

It’s a tough choice.

As expected, a top-three slate for a top-district position is thoroughly decorated with credentials. The deliveries of each may have provided some insight into how they would administer. But it also provided a lot of topical parallels.

Common parlance to all were the concepts of vision, communication, engagement, social and emotional development, graduation rates and a disdain for bullying. The latter topic was posed to each by audience members.

Capener said bullying is “horrible and can’t be tolerated.” He indicated that if it is identified as a problem, then remedying it needs to be a focus, including listening sessions, “making sure everyone who comes to school is valued and loved.”

Stevens stressed education and caring, reaching out to kids and sharpening empathy. She was specifically asked about cyber-bullying, to which she said kids should have it explained that “If you can’t say it to someone’s face, you probably shouldn’t be typing it.”

She stressed holding kids accountable, which means if they witness bullying with an indifferent eye, that is not acceptable and part of the problem.

O’Connell emphasized getting at the “why?” of bullying. She said understanding underlying causes is key to stopping it.

She also mentioned student accountability in standing up to it, while urging universal, creative approaches to address it.

Each candidate’s overall approach was a bit different from the others’. O’Connell used a power-point presentation to itemize her thoughts about the district’s needs and approaches of serving them. Capener and Stevens were less “boardroom” formal, preferring to express themselves in a more impromptu fashion, Capener focusing more heavily on his credentials while Stevens’ delivery was more tinged with her ties to Gervais as an educator there in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

All spoke about the importance of having a vision, and each mentioned seeing the district holistically. Capener termed it as an “integrated k-12 school system” where elementary school students are already tuned into what they need to do to graduate.

O’Connell constructed it in a birth-to-12 or cradle-to-career system, insuring kids have the life skills necessary beyond scholastic skills.

Stevens said Gervais should have a 100-percent graduation rate, and said she could be a unifying presence to make that happen. Instrumental to that is the k-12 curricula needs an “I-can-do-it” vocabulary throughout, among students and staff alike.

How to address facilities needs was another universal question fielded by all three. Capener stressed assessing and prioritizing needs, then developing a successive plan: what to accomplish in year 1, year 2, year 3, and so forth.

Stevens said looking into available grants, such as those made available for seismic upgrades, could be a fruitful source for the district to tap.

O’Connell viewed building a healthy infrastructure based on school and community needs, along with heightened community engagement to bear out how those are intertwined, an understanding that could yield more support for a bond.

“We couldn’t do it (float a bond) right now because our communication has sucked,” she asserted.

O’Connell stressed her current familiarity with the community, including the past 9 years as a middle-school principal, as “insider insight” and building “trusting relationships” while exhibiting “knowledge of the community” and “demonstrated commitment.”

Capener pitched his passion for education.

“I have a great passion for kids,” he said, “and I want to make sure that every child walks across that graduation stage.

“Gervais is a good district; I want to see it become a great district…the ingredients are here to make it great.”

Stevens said coming to Gervais would be a welcome homecoming. She said district needs require the focus of someone who is dedicated, engaged, in it for the duration and not a “job hopper.”

“This is a one high-school town, and this town should be rallying behind everything you do at that school,” she said.

“I showed my commitment the first five years I was here, I’m ready to give back to this community in a different way.”


Candidate Backgrounds

Brad Capener

Interim Superintendent at Jefferson School District; former k-12 Director of Special Programs; principal Salem Keizer School District; education specialist, Oregon Department of Education;, team leader for Federal Programs; taught middle & high school English and social studies in Beaverton and Lake Oswego; M.S. Education Administration at Portland State University; B.A., Luther College.

Dandy Stevens

Assistant Superintendent at Silver Falls School District; middle school principle; high school assistant principal for curriculum and discipline, and language arts and S.O.S trainer for Gervais High School and Willamette Education Service District; taught middle-and-high school students in Honduras and Guam; awarded Oregon Curriculum Assistant Principal of the Year in 2011; Masters in Curriculum and Instruction Portland State University; B.A. in Journalism/Public Relations from University of Oregon.

Ann O’Connell

Director of Special Services and middle school principal Gervais School District for 9 years. Director of Special Programs and Assistant Director of Special Programs at Willamette Education Service District, 7 years; assistant middle school principal in Salem-Keizer School District; secondary life skills teacher in the Cascade School District. M.S. in Multi-Handicapped Education from Western Oregon University; B.A. in English/Sociology from University of San Diego.

This story was published in the Woodburn Independent by Pamplin Media Group and written by Justin Much.

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