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Scappoose School District hires new Grant Watts principal

Educator Jennifer Stearns hopes to build sense of family, community at elementary school

PHOTO COUTESY OF ERIC STEARNS - Jennifer Stearns, the dean of students at Fowler Middle School, will begin working with the Scappoose School District in July as the principal at Grant Watts Elementary School. Stearns has more than 18 years of experience in education.The Scappoose School District board of directors unanimously voted to hire Jennifer Stearns, the dean of students at Fowler Middle School in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, and former special education teacher as the new Grant Watts principal, during a work session, Monday, April 25.

Stearns, who has more than 18 years of special education experience, was selected from a pool of more than 20 candidates who applied for the position, Superintendent Stephen Jupe said.

Principal Dana Larson announced his retirement from the elementary school in January after working in the district for 17 years, leaving the role vacant for the 2016-17 school year.

Originally from the Albany, New York, area, Stearns has lived in Oregon since 2004. She started her career as a special education teacher for a small school district in New York. After moving to Oregon, she began working in Portland Public Schools at Wilson High School, where she spent two years.

Since then, she has worked as a special education teacher, instructional coach, and literacy coordinator for Fowler Middle School in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

During the 2015-16 school year, Stearns moved into a new position as the first dean of students at Fowler Middle School. The role allowed her to build a sense of “school culture,” teach students how to be good citizens, and expose them to positive reinforcement, she said.

Involving parents wholeheartedly in their children’s education is something Stearns said she is passionate about. From including parents in morning meetings with school staff, to eventually creating a neighborhood garden at Grant Watts, Stearns said she hopes to build a sense of community at her new school.

“I think she believes in creating a family atmosphere and that’s definitely what that school needs,” Jupe said.

While Stearns’ contract with the Scappoose School District doesn’t start until July 1, she has already been actively working with Grant Watts staff and the Scappoose School District to plan for staffing needs and to help develop class schedules for the 2016-17 school year.

Larson invited Stearns to spend a day at the school before school lets out in June.

Laura LaMarsh, principal at Warren Elementary School, also invited Stearns to visit her school to see the differences between the campuses, she said.

“The reputation [of Grant Watts] is so phenomenal,” Stearns said. “I want to be able to continue the great work that’s happened there.”

In addition to planning, Stearns has also been familiarizing herself with the school community. In mid-April, she attended the 20th annual Grant Watts Spring Auction fundraiser to meet with parents, staff and community members, she said. Earlier this week, Stearns stopped by the Grant Watts Parent Organization monthly meeting to introduce herself.

While the principal position at Grant Watts will be the first administrative role Stearns has held, it won’t be her first time working with the Columbia County community. Stearns’ husband, Eric Stearns, served as the interim worship pastor at Warren Community Fellowship from 2008 to 2010.

Through that connection, Stearns said she and her family were able to build personal relationships within the community, which strengthened her decision to apply for the job.

“Part of it felt like coming home to me,” Stearns said.