Two mainstays of Centennial School District, Doug Cook and Dave Qualheim, retire after 36 and 41 years

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Dave Qualheim, left, and Doug Cook, right, have spent their careers together in Centennial School District and are retiring at the end of this school year. Qualheim describes Cook as a great support and Cook describes Qualheim as a reliable and incredibly organized rock of the office crew.

Together, they've sat in dunk tanks, orchestrated community projects with up to 200 people and watched a school district transform.

After spending their careers with Centennial School District, Doug Cook and Dave Qualheim are about to bid their home district adieu.

Cook and Qualheim, both Centennial High grads, are retiring after 36 and 41 years in the district. Cook has spent the last 17 years as a Centennial Middle School administrator, while Qualheim joined the school as a counselor 10 years ago.


From a family of educators

“I’ve always most enjoyed being around the kids, but I also like a good challenge and there isn’t a day at that middle school that I don’t have something that comes to me that I’ve never faced before,” Cook said with a laugh.

“It’s a middle schooler’s job to surprise the adults in their life. People like to say kids change, but they really don’t. We were going for shock value when we were in middle school.”

The son of an East County principal and teacher, some of Cook’s fondest memories were following his parents to summer recreation programs and Friday night movies at their schools.

“Just the excitement, the energy and positivity of the school environment really struck a chord with me,” Cook said.

Cook grew up attending Rockwood schools, but transitioned to Centennial because of boundary changes, graduating in 1973 with Qualheim’s younger sister.

Fresh out of Portland State University, Cook was offered a fourth-grade teaching position with Lynch Park Elementary School in the Centennial School District.

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to come back to the community in which I grew up — to teach and make a difference,” Cook said.

Throughout his career with Centennial, Cook has taught elementary school; worked in the district office in curriculum; and served as assistant principal and principal of Centennial Middle.

“When we first started, a lot of young people were hired in the district at the same time, and it was just a great time to be here,” Cook said. “We had new families and real commonalities.”


A Centennial kid since age 6

Qualheim grew up in the Centennial School District and graduated from Centennial High in 1968.

Always drawn to social issues and helping others, he found education a natural fit at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.

During onsite recruitment in April of his senior year, Qualheim received an offer to work as a second-grade teacher at Lynch Plaza in the Centennial School District.

Little did he know that 41 years later, he would be retiring as the longest-running employee in the district.

“I’m proud of my longevity here,” Qualheim said. “I love what I do and I’ve always been proud to be an educator.

“I like to work with parents who are struggling with parenting at the middle school age and help them see where their kids are developmentally. You have this person you’ve protected for 13 years and want to help them figure out ways to keep enough control to keep them safe but also let make their own decisions.”

Throughout his career, Qualheim has worked as an elementary school teacher, Title I reading instructor and counselor.

"Dave has been a rock for our office," Cook said. "I can't think of a more reliable person I've worked with."

Changes over the years

Cook and Qualheim describe Centennial as bedroom community that was small enough to let them really get to know their fellow employees and community members.

“We’ve seen their kids grow up and have their own kids,” Cook said. “There are so many great connections.

“We’ve seen some significant changes. We’ve seen the good times and challenging times and all the times in between. Every year brings a new challenge, and right now the economy is what challenges us the most.”

The two recall when a normal class size was 18-22 kids. Now it’s not uncommon to see 35 kids in a classroom, another challenge they see for schools.

Qualheim noted the drastic shift in demographics over the years and how Centennial schools now reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the Portland metro area.

“I think it strengthens our schools to have the diversity we have, but it’s a significant change from where we were 30 plus years ago,” Qualheim said.

When he transitioned to the middle school, Qualheim said an elementary student handed him a card that read, "I'm sorry you have to go to the big-kid school." Indeed, he was nervous.

He said Cook has always been a great support and helped his transition tremendously.

What’s next

After a couple months of rest and relaxation, Cook plans to work part-time in a position that offers him a flexible schedule for travel. Ireland is at the top of his list.

“I want to stay active and enjoy my newfound freedom,” Cook said. “I want to visit places I haven’t been worldwide.”

Cook is also excited to have more time for his new baby grandson and favorite hobbies: gardening, hiking and golfing.

Qualheim said he’s excited to “take it easy in retirement.” He awaits becoming a master gardener, traveling to Scandinavian countries, woodworking and completing projects around the house.

A grandfather of six, Qualheim is eager to volunteer in his grandchildren’s classrooms in the Centennial district.

A private retirement celebration was held for Qualheim last week. Cook’s community retirement reception and roast was held Tuesday, June 4, at Centennial Middle School. Current and former students, staff and parents were invited.

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