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Fetz puts 15 years of district leadership into focus


Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED - Superintendent Howard Fetz will retire June 30.As Superintendent Howard Fetz prepares to retire from the Estacada School District, his 15 years in the district have given him a lot to look back on.

“My role, as I saw it, was to hold the district together through some very hard financial times,” said Fetz, who likened his superintendency to keeping his thumb on the hole in a dike.

Fetz arrived in Estacada as the director of curriculum and special services in 1999. He made his way up to assistant superintendent and then to superintendent.

This period saw a national shift in approach to education.

Fetz cited the old adage “what’s measured is taught” and said the federal legislation shifted the emphasis of learning during the George W. Bush administration.

As funding for schools became tied to test performance, Fetz said “it became a different world.”

Fetz nodded to the state and federal changes in educational requirements as one of the biggest challenges of his superintendency.

Fetz credits the proficiency-based learning model at Estacada High School with adeptly navigating this shift.

He explained that the norm in Oregon had been to simply pass students who showed up and handed in their homework, somewhat disjointed from whether they had actually learned the material.

However, grades are based solely upon whether or not the student has met an academic benchmark under the proficiency learning model.

Estacada High School uses Flex Fridays to form individualized schedules for students to get extra help for subjects they struggle with. For students who do not require more time with a subject, there are opportunities for academic pursuits not covered in regular class.

Fetz said the high school is a leader in the state, if not the country, in proficiency learning.

He said his favorite saying is “Not one way for all, but the right way for each.”

When looking back at the district’s accomplishments he is most proud of, Fetz cited that the school board, helmed by David Bugni, had been able to pass a bond measure to replace the seismically unsound Estacada Grade School building with what is now Clackamas River Elementary in 2000.

The bond included funding for other seismic upgrades in the district.

Fetz also is proud of the principals leading the district’s schools, describing them as probably the most cohesive group he has ever worked with.

He listed the charter schools and the former Estacada Alternative High School as programs he was proud to be associated with.

“I think the charter school has been an immense success both in education and in terms of being a positive fiscal factor for the district,” he said.

Of the former Alternative High School that had been housed at Timber Lake Job Corps, Fetz had suggested in a previous interview that it often had functioned as a sort of “second chance” to get a high school diploma to students who had not achieved one with their own age group.

Students in the program had the opportunity to gain a GED or diploma and also to get experience in a trade, Fetz said.

“It was a program that saved a whole lot of kids,” Fetz said. “To me that’s why we’re in education. Kids first.”

School Board Chairman Rick Mudrow told the Estacada News in August 2013 that enrollment was not high enough to support the necessary staff to operate the Estacada Alternative High School Program without running a deficit.

The school board voted to discontinue the Alternative High School program and it was dissolved on Sept. 30, 2013.

As for the biggest challenges in his superintendency, Fetz cited changes in state and federal education requirements, the district’s trend toward lower student enrollment, budget cuts and district politics.

Fetz’ contract ends on June 30.

He plans to enjoy his retirement working in the yard, visiting grandchildren and going to ballgames.

He also will have more time to devote to being a northwest associate scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.