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New school board chairman anticipates challenges and achievements

by:  John Wendland

As John Wendland steps into the role of Lake Oswego School Board chair, he is anticipating both great challenges and major achievements.

Wendland is entering his third year on the school board and his first as board chair, which is a one-year commitment.

'I'm a big proponent of the district,' he said. 'We live in a great district.'

Wendland has been active in the district in various capacities for years, serving on site councils, parent organizations and program and budget committees.

He grew up in Lake Oswego and returned as an adult eight and a half years ago with his wife and two daughters, Katy, 19, and Sara, 18. His children both graduated from Lake Oswego High School.

'Education is important to people in this community,' he said. 'The community supports schools.'

However, although the district has great support, it is suffering financially like many districts in the country.

He said the biggest challenge is finding resources and then using them to best benefit the schools.

Wendland said Lake Oswego might be better off than other districts because officials foresaw the financial shortages ahead of time and planned for them.

'The great thing about our district is that we plan,' he said. 'We predicted the situation years ago.'

The real challenge, though, he said, 'is to keep everything intact while attacking budget shortfalls with everything you can.'

Thanks to the support of the community, the businesses and the city, the Lake Oswego district has been able to retain many programs and class sizes that other districts have already slashed.

'People rallied around the schools,' Wendland said.

Another challenge facing the district this year is 'Plan B,' the configuration of junior highs into middle schools. The plan started implementation this summer with the closure of Palisades Elementary School. The middle school format will start in the 2012-13 school year.

'Long term I think it's going to be a good model for Lake Oswego,' he said of the middle school design. 'We have a wonderful opportunity to have specialists for sixth graders.'

Wendland stressed that the buildings and the facilities will always play second fiddle to the people in the district.

'It's the teachers and the classrooms that make the difference,' he said. 'It's the people who make the district. We put as much money as we can into the classroom.'

Wendland describes a triangle of success in the district: Great teachers, motivated students and supportive parents.

'There's never a status quo in Lake Oswego,' he explained. 'We have doers and people who make contributions to the district.'

A major success, last year the Lake Oswego Foundation raised $2.2 million for the district to help retain class sizes and prevent additional furlough days for this calendar school year.

The next obstacle, however, is to keep the fundraising going, to keep the motivation and support for the district rolling, because the district is predicting financial shortages of $2.5 to $3 million every year into the foreseeable future.

'We are really up against a tremendous challenge,' he said. 'We need to keep the message alive. By no means are we out of the woods yet.

'The problems we have this year are the exact same problems we'll have next year.'

Wendland also mentioned changing enrollment numbers could bring added stress to the district. Maintaining numbers or increases in enrollment are preferable.

Despite the hurdles the school board is up against, Wendland is optimistic about the work it can do and the improvements it can make.

The district is one of the most cohesive operating districts in the state, he said, because it has higher expectations from the community.

He called the board members and the district staff collaborative, adding that they pride themselves on open communication and transparency.

'I really value that,' he said. 'It's just a great group of people to work with.'

Wendland will be joined this fall with returning members Linda Brown and Teri Oelrich and incoming members Bob Barman and Patti Zebrowski.

Wendland's advice for the new members is to listen and absorb for a while.

'I did that my first year,' he said. 'It's different from a board level. You just learn a ton.'

In his free time, Wendland enjoys golfing, raising his teenagers, photography and boating.

The first school board meeting this fall is Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 8 a.m. at the district office.