Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Noreen reflects on nearly a decade on School Board


Kevin Noreen has taken a job as director of human resources for the Hood River County School District

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - Kevin Noreen is leaving the Sherwood School Board after nearly a decade of service to take a job as director of human resources for the Hood River County School DistrictPerhaps the biggest decision that Kevin Noreen had to make during his near-decade-long tenure on the Sherwood School Board was to resign effective Nov. 14.

Noreen, whose letter of resignation was in the board’s Oct. 10 meeting packet, has taken a job as director of human resources for the Hood River County School District and is required to attend its school board meetings, which are held on the same night as Sherwood’s.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to write that letter,” said Noreen, 44. “It was very difficult. It was not something I was prepared for when I took the job. It was very emotional.

“If the Hood River County School Board met on a different night, I would have tried to stay on the Sherwood School Board.”

Although Noreen has rented a place in Hood River to use a couple of nights a week, he will continue to live in Sherwood, where his wife Kate is the owner of Mudpuddles Toys & Books and his two children attend local schools – Karina, a junior at Sherwood High School, is spending this school year in Finland as a Rotary exchange student; and Kierin is an eighth-grader at Sherwood Middle School.

The Noreens moved to Sherwood 14 years ago, “and I got involved with the schools when we first came,” Noreen said. “I got involved with the Sherwood Education Foundation, and I attended every School Board meeting for a year before I ran, so the other members knew who I was. I wanted to know how it operated.

“Both my parents were teachers, and my wife and I wanted to get involved in our kids’ schools. We served on the board of their pre-school co-op.”

When Noreen ran for his first term on the School Board, it was a three-way race for the seat, and he won more than 50 percent of the vote in what one newspaper called a “landslide.”

When he ran for a second term four years later, there was no opposition, but in May 2011, when he ran for a third term, he had one opponent.

“I remember when I attended my first SHS graduation and sat on the dais – the other four board members had graduating seniors, and I had a first-grader,” Noreen said. “But they were very welcoming, and through all the changes on the board, no one has come with an agenda – that makes it easier to make decisions.”

Because Noreen wanted to get involved with education beyond Sherwood’s boundaries, he became active at the state level with the Oregon School Boards Association and served on its legislative policy committee for two or three years.

“I had a vision that we should look for good ideas and best practices outside of small-town Sherwood,” Noreen said. “I wondered if there were districts and programs going on that we needed to pay attention to.

“I attended all the association’s annual meetings and went to a national meeting. I have always looked at what was going on at the national level, and to the credit of the school district’s staff and administration, they do that too.”

The Sherwood School District was one of the first recipients of a Chalkboard Project CLASS grant, and Noreen considers that a real coup and credits former assistant superintendent Erin Prince for her key role in the accomplishment.

“The Sherwood School District is a leader and one of the top districts in the state in part because the board has continued to hire the best people,” Noreen said. “We have had great superintendents and have brought in great administrators.”

And of course, some of those people eventually moved onward and upward in the field of education.

In the past decade, former Superintendent Rob Saxton left Sherwood to become the Tigard-Tualatin School District superintendent and then Oregon’s first deputy superintendent of public instruction; Dan Jamison, who followed Saxton, left Sherwood to become vice president of the Chalkboard Project and is a leader of statewide school reform; and current Superintendent Heather Cordie “is an up-and-coming educational leader,” Noreen said.

“We keep trading up,” he added. “We as a board haven’t panicked when a superintendent has retired or left.”

Noreen also has made a point of trying to attend the new teacher orientations each year and while he was board chairman for two years, he “warned” the newcomers about teaching in Sherwood.

“I clearly articulated to them that our parents and community have high expectations,” he said. “When parents like ours are involved, they expect the best. If parents have an issue, they will speak to the teacher and then the superintendent and then me to get resolution.”

Although occasional issues have flared up over the years that demanded a lot of the board’s time, energy and eventually tough decisions, Noreen said probably the biggest and most far-reaching one was when it voted in December 2008 to change school attendance boundaries.

The proposed changes were hotly debated and opposed by parents whose kids would have to switch schools, but after several meetings and hearings, the board voted 4 to 0 in favor of the new boundaries.

At that meeting, Noreen spoke out strongly against making exceptions for some students with extenuating circumstances so they could continue to attend their current schools.

“The more exceptions the board makes, the more split up the neighborhoods will be,” he said. “We will have buses passing each other on the same street (taking students to different schools)… I’m not going to vote for grandfathering. My son next year is going to be a proud Hopkins Hawk.”

Noreen’s statement four years ago that his son would be leaving Middleton after starting kindergarten there to spend his last year in elementary school at Hopkins struck a note with at least one parent, according to Noreen.

He recalled that about a year ago someone who had attended the meeting when the vote on the boundary changes was made told him, “I was frustrated and ticked off. I thought the board didn’t know what it was doing. But when you said your son was switching to Hopkins, I had so much respect for you. I thought you had integrity.”

Noreen added, “Even though that came years later, it meant a lot to me. One time I asked Dan Jamison, ‘What is your test for making a decision?’ Dan said, ‘It’s simple – it’s about what is best for the kids.’

“Once you boil it down to that, you might rub a parent the wrong way, but it does make decisions easier.”

Noreen considers the passage of the school district’s $98 million bond measure in November 2006 to build a new elementary and a new middle school and make improvements to the existing schools one of the district’s biggest accomplishments.

“It was one of the largest bond measures every passed by the district,” he said. “It had over 60 percent support. People trusted us.”

And at a time when other school districts are cutting art and music programs, SHS under Frank Petrik started up a marching band program that in a short time started winning awards.

“I feel privileged to have been part of this team, and that’s why moving on is easier,” Noreen said. “I hope I take a lot of what I have learned here and apply it in my new job.”

While the Hood River County School District covers a huge geographic area, it is similar in size to Sherwood with 4,000 students spread over one high school, two middle schools and four elementary schools.

Noreen, who is licensed to practice law in Oregon, worked for Clackamas County for almost 15 years and most recently was the development review supervisor for the Department of Transportation and Development.

“I made a deliberate career move,” he said of the switch to education. “The Hood River job was the first one I applied for, and I am finally in the field I want to be in. I’ve been trying to find my niche in education – if you can match your passion with your career, that’s heaven.

“This was something I have been looking forward to – to find a position in a school district where I can work for kids all the time.”

Noreen started his new job in mid-September, and so far it is everything he hoped it would be.

“It’s been great so far,” he said. “The passion our community here has for education, they have in Hood River. It’s equal – it’s a strong district. It’s been a tough transition, but when you find a career that matches your passion, you’ve got it made in spades.”