Superintendent retires: Andy Bellando leaves Silver Falls district

July 2019 Posted in Community

Andy Bellando and his granddaughter Elizabeth. Submitted Photo

By Brenna Wiegand

Silver Falls School District Super-intendent Andy Bellando retired July 1 after a 34-year career in education, the last 31 in Silverton.

Coincidentally, he and wife Rhonda just celebrated their 34th anniversary and now Bellando, 57, looks forward to more time with family and other pursuits.

Since he was hired in 1985 to teach agriculture, natural resources and general science at Silverton High School, Bellando has never looked back. He loved every minute of his seven-year stint at the high school, growing the Ag and FFA program from 80 to 350 students and increasing its teaching staff from one to three.

One of 14 siblings, Bellando’s involvement in agriculture began his freshman year of high school thanks to the encouragement of an influential Ag teacher. Through his four years Bellando was very active in FFA, sports, student leadership, concert and jazz bands.

The bevy of courses under the Ag umbrella included many skills that have served him well in the years since – horticulture, mechanics, welding, veterinary sciences, plumbing and leadership – and by his senior year Bellando owned a flock of 50 sheep. He began his own sheep shearing business which put him through college, which included a yearlong exchange program in New Zealand.

“I estimate I’ve sheared over 100,000 sheep in the U.S. and New Zealand,” he said. “The most in one day was 250.”

The Bellandos live on five acres just outside of town with timber, a couple goats and plenty of projects waiting in the wings. They are parents to Jaron, Tyler and Amanda, mother of their first grandchild, five-year-old Elizabeth.

Bellando went into administration in 1995, beginning with a couple years as vice principal at Robert Frost Elementary and Mark Twain Middle schools and then 11 years as Mark Twain’s principal.

Nine years ago, following two years as the district’s human resources director, Bellando was appointed superintendent.

“It gave me a great opportunity to expand my leadership and to put myself in a position of influencing others and having others influence me which is really what my upbringing and education was all about,” he said. “Nine years was a very good run on the heels of an incredible superintendent, Craig Roessler; between the two of us we put in 30 years of leadership when some school districts experience a new superintendent every three or four years. That feels like an achievement.”

Some of the most meaningful achievements to Bellando include producing, with comprehensive district wide input, two five-year strategic plans he feels do an excellent job of defining the school district and identifying its core values and beliefs.

“That’s important for me because there are plenty of people in the community who have their individual desires that sometimes don’t match with the values of the school district,” he said.

Facilities planning in such a diverse, multi-school district with many aging buildings poses multiple challenges and Bellando is proud of the work accomplished on that front.

“I’m very pleased to have been part of the solution for Eugene Field School and in finding and adapting to a Plan B for the middle school,” Bellando said. “Through that we have been able to provide some direction to the district that will be helpful in future facility planning.

“I’m also very proud to have been part of the leadership of a school district that, ever since my arrival, has embraced high levels of academic achievement that has resulted in what is clearly defined by others in the state as a model and a high-performing school district. That feels right,” Bellando said. “Our 91 percent graduation rate, our 95 percent completion rate, how long employees stay in the district and the number of former graduates who come back and work for us is impressive. That’s also a reflection of the community; people love it here.”

Bellando was named 2017 Silverton First Citizen for his own community contributions, especially through Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Silverton Area Community Aid.

Though Silverton’s a tough place to raise a bond – since 1980 just two of nine attempts have passed – during Bellando’s tenure the district acquired $7.8 million in grants for seismic upgrades to rural schools, Mark Twain, Robert Frost and the middle school gymnasium.

“If you’re going to Victor Point, Butte Creek or Scotts Mills School right now you’ll see huge improvements; we’re going to get another 30-40 years out of those schools without a problem,” he said.

Heading a 500-employee, people-based organization with a $65 million budget is not without its controversies, including current unrest over district music instruction and especially a 43-charge grievance brought against the district by the Silver Falls Education Association in regard to its handling of a high school English teacher and the grading protocol for college credit courses he administered. After third-party arbitration of the 43 actions levied, the union prevailed in one, fueling community unrest expressed through social media.

“Education is a complex interaction of relationships and procedural steps and compliance requirements that can make your head spin,” Bellando said. “Sometimes we misstep, but here we didn’t misstep on 42 things; we misstepped on one.

“I wasn’t going to let it become a distraction and problematic because I value the school district too much,” Bellando said. “I think what teachers want most is an authentic relationship with their supervisors that feels supportive and is in the best interest of kids.

“I firmly believe we have the best administrators around who truly understand how to support the individual needs of students, and even though we have some repairs to do internally with staff and trust with the administration I also think it’s a good time for the superintendent to move on.”

Just one of the seven Silver Falls School District board members who hired Bellando remains on the board and though Bellando believes he has worked well with the board in the ensuing years, he is seeing some new interests that differ from those of his hiring board.

“For me, this is a professional and a very personal decision so there are lots of things that come into play, including these changes, my own ambitions, my own physical well being and my desire to spend more time with Elizabeth; everything combined caused me to say this just feels like the right time,” Bellando said. “The outpouring of support I’ve received in light of the noise on social media reinforced my conviction that… I’m leaving in a good place; I’m leaving upright; I’m leaving by choice.

“For years I’ve thought how enjoyable it will be just to work on the projects we’ve put off for many years,” Bellando said.

“What I’m looking forward to the most – and educators can appreciate this – is getting my Sunday afternoons and evenings back,” he said. “For 34 years the cogs started turning about the coming week around 2 or 3 o’clock every Sunday.”

All the same, Bellando is not ruling out the possibility of taking on a new position, but only after he’s had some time to “relax and enjoy this retirement thing.”

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