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Veteran principal will take Riverdale reins for a year to buy district time

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Al Fitzpatrick, a seasoned elementary principal with decades of experience, will come out of retirement this fall to oversee Riverdale Grade School for one year.

In the meantime, district administrators will continue the search to permanently fill the position of former Principal Scott Grove, who retired in June.

'We had a lot of interest but not a lot of people were qualified,' said Superintendent Thomas Hagerman.

The district completed a screening process and two rounds of interviews last spring, but could not find an appropriate fit in time for summer.

It quickly became clear to Hagerman that an interim principal was necessary. Hagerman immediately thought of Fitzpatrick, whom he previously worked with in the North Clackamas School District.

Fitzpatrick, who retired from North Clackamas in 2004, already knows the ins and outs of Riverdale Grade School. When Grove took medical leave for three weeks last year, Fitzpatrick was selected to fill in.

The experience made Fitzpatrick a natural fit for the job, Hagerman said.

'We needed someone who … could just walk in and understand how the school works and work effectively with staff, students and parents,' Hagerman said. 'Al's very experienced, so that was obviously very appealing to us.'

Although he was making travel plans with his newly retired wife at the time, Fitzpatrick happily accepted the offer to return to Riverdale.

'It had become very obvious to me that I missed being in a school,' he said.

The connections and friendships he made in the spring made Fitzpatrick feel as though he could be effective as principal.

'I was pretty excited to come back here and spend more time with the community and staff,' he said

Fitzpatrick, a Milwaukie resident, has a long career in education, as does his family. His grandmothers and wife were teachers as are his three children.

He specializes in multicultural education and has taught grades one through eight.

As a principal, Fitzpatrick led Milwaukie Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary in Milwaukie and Deep Creek Elementary in Damascus.

He is also an instructor at Portland State University, where he earned his master's degree and administrative credentials.

Fitzpatrick hopes he can put his decades of experience to good use at Riverdale.

'I want to have an impact,' he said. 'I want to be involved but I certainly need to be respectful of traditions.'

During the school year, Fitzpatrick will work on a major bond initiative that could result in a complete renovation or rebuilding of the school building.

Fitzpatrick, who helped open Spring Mountain Elementary in Happy Valley, is excited for the opportunity to get parent input and work with architects on potential designs.

'He's the ideal choice in terms of having a lot of first-hand knowledge of how that works,' Hagerman said.

The school is also in the third year of a three-year staff development plan using the text 'Understanding by Design.' Fitzpatrick will be in charge of leading the discussion.

At Riverdale, emphasis will be placed on technology, math and language arts adoption. Fitzpatrick has already hired a new kindergarten teacher and is in the process of bringing on a new Spanish teacher.

Fitzpatrick believes he has big shoes to fill.

'Scott had a huge connection with staff and was well liked,' he said.

After spending time with Grove, Fitzpatrick realized the two men share similar educational values and beliefs. Fitzpatrick believes those similarities will make it easier to maintain the programs Grove implemented.

'I did have an advantage,' Fitzpatrick said. 'But three weeks is only a snapshot of what happens at this school … I am pretty excited to come back.'

Riverdale begins school Sept. 4. District administrators plan to resume the principal search in October with a national campaign in both private and public sectors.

'We're going to cast our net a bit further,' Hagerman said.

The district is seeking enthusiastic, committed candidates with five to seven years of administrative experience at the elementary level.

Hagerman hopes to hire a new principal before the end of the school year so Fitzpatrick can assist with the transition.

Check out the Riverdale School District's redesigned Web site at www.riverdale.k12.or.us