By Mary Owen
The Santiam Canyon School District is weathering transitions, including the resignation of Superintendent Brad Yates and closing Gates Elementary School in favor of a two-school model.
“We’re down to about 540 kids,” said Stephen Nielsen, business manager, who has taken on many of the superintendent duties. “We just couldn’t continue to carry three buildings.”
To help overcome budget constraints, the SCSD board voted to close Gates and move students to now-be-known-as Santiam Elementary School. Santiam High School is now Santiam Junior/Senior High School.
With Gates’ closing, the district lost three FTE-certified staff as well as classified and administrative workers, including custodial and secretarial.
“At this point, we’re still looking for options for how Gates Elementary can be used,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said 40 people volunteered a Saturday in June to move books from Gates’ library to Santiam Elementary.
“Volunteers have shown up to pack things for teachers, tape boxes, students and community members alike,” he said. “Because of the increased amount of help, the move is going more smoothly than expected.”
Nielsen said district employees are working hard to move ahead since Yates’ departure on June 1. He cited health issues as the main reason for his resignation. However, Yates’ leaving came at the negotiated settlement between district and Yates after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced earlier this year.
Nielsen said the board took action after Gates Elementary School secretary Shelly Baughman filed a complaint against Yates, who was placed on paid leave during the investigation.
Teacher JJ Aerni came forward with allegations that she, too, had been subjected to improper advances from Yates, dating to 2008, when she worked as a substitute for the district, according to reports in the Statesman Journal.
Neilsen said the district has close communications with the complainants, and has taken their allegations seriously from the beginning.
“The district responded swiftly and smoothly,” he said. “What needed to be done was done. Obviously, it will take to for everyone to heal and get past it.”
As for district and parent response, he added, “It’s been a mixed reaction. Brad was here for about 14 years, and did a lot of good things for the district. It was obviously difficult to have such an abrupt end, and, of course, one less administrator for the rest of school year.”
For the upcoming school year, the district plans to fill Yates’ empty seat with an interim superintendent, Nielsen said.
“Someone from the outside who can look at this, help make the decisions that have to be made, and have vision for the future,” he said. “We hope to have someone in place by the first week in August.”
Meanwhile, Susan Waddell from the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District is acting as the superintendent of record.
“We are communicating by phone and e-mail on a daily basis, and she’s helping us with the search as well as with other things that come up,” Nielsen said. “While it’s been difficult, most people are moving forward in a positive way, both in the schools and the community. We will still have two great schools for the kids.”
A Summer Lunch Program is in place through Aug. 16, with free meals served to children ages 1 to 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.
A Summer Library Program will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Santiam Elementary.
For information on district programs or changes, call the Santiam Canyon School District office at 503-897-2321.