Fresh perspective: Silver Falls School District hires interim superintendent

September 2019 Posted in Community, School

Silver Falls School District’s Interim Superintendent Paul Peterson. Submitted Photo

By Brenna Wiegand

As the football team practices outside the window of his new office, Paul Peterson is gearing up as Silver Falls School District’s Interim Superintendent for the 2019-
2020 year.

Peterson was superintendent of Scappoose School District from 2006-2011 then spent seven years as superintendent of the Northwest Regional Education Service District, serving 123,000 students over 184 schools and 20 school districts.

Prior to 2006 Peterson taught English, was an assistant principal and then went to Klamath Falls where he was in turn IT director, business manager and personnel director.

“I’m so grateful to have that experience; there aren’t a lot of superintendents who have that business manager experience,” he said.

Last year Peterson returned to Scappoose as interim superintendent to help the district through a rough patch.

“Challenging times call for us to look within and dig deep sometimes; to refocus on what’s most important and intentionally look for and celebrate the joy in our lives,” Peterson said, “and in our work, that’s the children and the chance we have as educators to be a part of improving their lives.

“If we do things right and focus on kids who are experiencing poverty or other difficulties we can, in the course of one generation, change the trajectory of their lives and of their future families – that’s a huge responsibility and an honor.”

Peterson grew up in Ferndale, Washington, in a family of educators. He and wife Tracie have two teenaged children.

“We especially like his relevant experience,” Silver Falls School District Board Chair Jonathan Edmonds said. “It was important to find someone who knows the ropes and what it takes to run a district.”

The board contracted Oregon School Boards Association to administer the hiring process for the 10 and ½-month position and are strongly considering using its services again in the much more involved process of finding a permanent replacement for Andy Bellando, who retired in July.

“There’s a cost involved, of course, but there’s a lot of hand-holding and they do a lot of the legwork,” Edmonds said. “They facilitate community forums, gather information and bring it back to us.”

Twenty-one people applied for the interim position. The school board, teachers, community members and other administrators narrowed the field to 10.

“OSBA collected that information and sent it back to us,” Edmonds said. “We then narrowed the field to six and by
the time we got to that point two had bowed out.”

The goal is to have a permanent superintendent in place several months before the end of the upcoming school year.

“We’re looking for someone who can help us through what I’ll call a healing process; there clearly was some division among the ranks over the last several years,” Edmonds said.

“I don’t think we’re that far apart but I think what we’re looking for more than anything is someone who will bring us all back together.”

Meanwhile, the district is in the middle of contract negotiation with the Silver Falls Education Association.

“There’s all this stuff,” Edmonds said. “We have a fairly different board than we did even a year ago and I think as a result we need somebody who’s got a little ‘been there, done that,’ but we also need somebody who’s going to want to, whenever we come up against roadblocks, make sure we come out with a collaborative win-win situation.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to take a great district and build on it and hopefully repair some of the fractures that seem to have occurred recently.

“I see some really positive signs out there and we’re already having great dialog with the union,” Edmonds continued. “The board is working very well together; at a recent meeting then-acting superintendent Dan Bush and union president Michelle Stadeli gave a joint presentation on what they saw as things that were going well and how they were looking particularly for win-win scenarios.

“I can’t even think of when the last time something like that happened, if ever.”

Peterson agrees.

“There are kids who need us in very profound ways,” Peterson said. “There are kids experiencing poverty, homelessness; kids are watching us adults on the national level; the political level of our discourse as adults and they’re wondering what they should become and how they should be in the world.

“Thank goodness we have teachers who bring their hearts, their lives and their livelihood to work with them every day and they take home with them this burden of responsibility,” Peterson said. “There are teachers who don’t sleep at night because they’re worried about how one of their children is experiencing their life that night and what are they going to come to school with the next day in terms of their own readiness.

“Teachers are amazing,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting year,” Edmonds said. “With a fresh board and new board chair, a new superintendent and assistant superintendent there’s a lot of opportunity to look at things in a fresh way and that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to.”

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