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New Gresham High School principal ready for business

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA  - Michael Schaefer, the new principal at Gresham High School, gets up close and personal with a colorful, life-sized cow that graces Barlow High Schools main office. Michael Schaefer, the new principal of Gresham High School, came to education administration a little late.

A business major in college, Schaefer spent 10 years trading commodities for Cargill Inc. before managing a lumber distribution company in Bend.

Though a far cry from school administration, commodities trading “is a pretty interesting business,” he said. “I learned a ton. You have to keep a giant feed plant rolling 24/7.”

Schaefer replaces John Koch, who was earlier named the Gresham-Barlow district’s executive director of student support services. Principal at Gresham for six years, Koch will officially pass the baton to Schaefer on Friday, July 1.

The characteristics that make a good commodities trader — intuition, vision, discipline, focus, confidence — are translatable to being an effective school principal. Despite his diverse background, Schaefer is not planning any quick changes at Gresham High, located at 1200 N. Main Ave.

“There will not be anything immediate, I can tell you. Gresham High School has some excellent programs,” he said.

Schaefer praises the Gresham High staff for being “very invested in the community, calling the staff “selfless and giving” in the way they work with students.

The school compares well with others. Gresham graduated 76.6 percent of the class of 2015, compared with 74 percent for all schools across Oregon in 2015.

Schaefer is no beginner when it comes to school administration. He was assistant principal at Barlow High School for about four years. Before that he was assistant principal at Hidden Valley High School in Grants Pass.

Schaefer attended Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where he majored in French and business. He spent his senior year studying at a university in Cannes, France, where he perfected the language. During his stint in the business world, he always felt drawn to education and got his master’s degree in education at Western Oregon University.

Schaefer began teaching in 2002 at Hidden Valley High School. He taught French, business, psychology and sociology as well as strength and conditioning. After teaching a few years, he moved into administration.

The tall, lanky educator was the women’s basketball coach for seven years at Hidden Valley and ended that career by leading the girls to a state championship. Schaefer was also assistant coach for men’s baseball and is still active in the high school sports world, serving on multiple committees of the Oregon School Athletics Association.

At Barlow, Schaefer worked to make Advanced Placement and honors courses more accessible to low-income students and students of color. He’s on the Gresham-Barlow district equity team and wants to “really take a look at what we can do to take advantage of the diversity at Gresham and also meet the needs of all the students.”

Gresham High has a robust international baccalaureate program, a rigorous course of study in high school that prepares students well for college. Schaefer said he’d like to expand the IB program, make it more inclusive and “part of the equity piece. Some students don’t see themselves as IB students.”

Schaefer is hopeful a district facilities bond likely to go on the November ballot will pass to enhance Gresham High’s presence in the community.

“Some of the big, newer high schools are truly community centers,” he said. “We need to ask what does the community want to see from the high school? What do businesses want from the high school?”

When he’s not working in education, Schaefer is an avid outdoorsman. He spent summers as a fly fishing guide in Alaska while attending school and early in his career and still fishes, hunts and hikes. He is also remodeling his house in Northeast Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children in elementary school. He also spends time shuttling them and supporting them among all their sports and activities.

Schaefer is already meeting with staff at Gresham High School in anticipation of his new role. “Things are not broke there. Things are working very well. It is so nice to hear,” he said. “Their goals and passions are very clear.

“There are really some outstanding leaders in that building.”