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Leadership changes will effect seven of the district's 10 schools

Newberg School District announced May 1 that it has reassigned several administrators for the 2017-2018 school year, a reorganization that will affect seven of the district's 10 schools.

Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza said the changes were initiated by the departure of Mabel Rush principal Lisa Callahan, who is leaving to take a position in a district where she previously worked.

When looking at that position, LeBlanc-Esparza and assistant superintendent Dave Parker discussed whether to simply post that position or consider moving in a current administrator who would be a good fit for Mabel Rush.

LeBlanc-Esparza said that was an easy decision because Antonia Crater Elementary principal Troy Fisher was a great match, but that reassigning him initiated a cascade of similar moves, driven primarily by the same motive: the opportunity to match the strengths and personalities of current administrators with the needs of various schools in the district.

"The dominoes just went," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "It's really interesting how it all came together. Every one of those situations needed a skill set that the person I put in that place has."

With a background in early childhood education and a proven track record of serving disadvantaged student populations, including those coming from poverty or English Language Learners (ELL), LeBlanc-Esparza said Fisher has both the skills and temperament that Mabel Rush needs.

"As we looked at Mabel Rush, one of the things that is Troy's strength and his staff would characterize him as is a huge relationship builder," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "He does a phenomenal job connecting with parents, connecting with staff, building trust and collaborating to make sure everyone is a part of the school community. Mabel Rush really has expressed an interest in that kind of leader, so between that and his skill set, we really felt like he was just that perfect match."

With Fisher moving on, the district tabbed Mountain View Middle School principal Michele Paton, who joined the district two years ago, to replace Fisher at Crater. LeBlanc-Esparza credited Paton and assistant principal Don Johnston for building the right kind of culture and climate at Mountain View, both for students and teachers, and said Paton's skills with instruction will be put to good use at Crater.

Stepping in for Paton will be longtime district administrator and current Joan Austin Elementary principal Terry McElligott.

"We needed a seasoned veteran leader that was really strong in instruction and had the credibility in our system," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "Nobody questions the skill set around curriculum and instruction with Terry 'Mac.' There's no one that has that like her."

Joining McElligott at MVMS will be Chehalem Valley Middle School instructional facilitator and part-time administrator Cassandra Thonstad, who will take over for Johnston as assistant principal. Johnston will move to the elementary level to provide administrative support as dean of students at the district's two largest elementary schools, Mabel Rush and Edwards.

LeBlanc-Esparza said that staff at both schools have been requesting exactly that kind of help for the past three years, but that the district wasn't able to mobilize the resources until now.

In this particular situation, given all the work they're trying to do in both of those schools around 21st century teaching and learning and serving the students who have more intensive needs, it just wasn't equitable.

Meanwhile at Mountain View, Thonstad will help McElligott adjust back to middle school, as she has taken a leadership role with the ongoing efforts the district has begun in teaching and learning in recent years. They also have complimentary skill sets when it comes to instruction.

"Terry has a real strength in language arts and social studies and humanities, while Cassandra is STEM," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "They've got the total package between the two of them."

Filling the vacancy left by McElligott at Joan Austin will be Newberg High School assistant principal Alaina Carter, who has excelled in building relationships since joining the district two years ago.

"She doesn't have elementary experience, but that's been a long-term goal of hers," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "What Alaina has is super depth of knowledge and experience around language arts and literacy. Since that is the foundation of elementary, we really felt good that she could take that and use her skill set in that way."

With all of the moves, Santana's is just one of two that the district will replace through the traditional hiring process, along with principal of the Catalyst after Bill Rogers announced he is stepping down after nine years in charge of the alternative high school program.

After 31 years in education, Rogers is transitioning to part-time and will join George Fox University to train student teachers.

"We're absolutely sorry to see him move on to that next experience in his life, but I understand," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "When you get to that place where you're ready to do something different, maybe lighten the load a little bit and contribute back to the profession, I think he's going to do a great job at Fox, but he's going to be a big loss for us."

Overall, LeBlanc-Esparza said she felt comfortable deviating from the normal process of publicly posting open positions and sacrificing a bit of continuity at some schools because the opportunity to post leaders to school needs was too good to pass up because the moves will ultimately pay dividends in classrooms at all affected schools.

"We need to recognize that we are all coming to do the work that is best for kids," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "I believe these leadership moves will help us do just that."

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