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Former Russell Academy principal Debbie Ebert steps up to the plate in Tualatin

by: THE TIMES - JAIME VALDEZ - Bridgeport Elementary School principal Debbie Ebert checks in with students in the school cafeteria during lunch. Ebert is the former principal of Russell Academy in the Parkrose School District.There is no large, imposing desk in the principal’s office at Bridgeport Elementary School. Instead, a small conference table sits in the middle of the room, suggesting that Principal Debbie Ebert welcomes conversation and collaboration.

As she looks forward to a year that will see the development of afterschool and bilingual programs at her school, Ebert makes it clear she welcomes parent and teacher


Ebert, an Oregon native, spent the past nine years at Russell Academy in the Parkrose School District, where she served as principal for the last five years. She replaces Jerry Nihill, who is now principal of Mary Woodard Elementary in Tigard.

Before stepping into this leadership role, Ebert spent 17 years in the classroom, primarily teaching elementary grades. She’s the first to admit that becoming a principal was not a natural choice for her — as a student, she had a shy nature. As a teacher, she didn’t think an administrative role would appeal to her.

But others saw leadership potential in Ebert. Early in her teaching career, she worked under two principals, one in Hillsboro and one in Wilsonville, who actively encouraged her to pursue the possibility in graduate school. Ebert attended Portland State University for her advanced degree as she and her husband Doug started a family, but she opted to focus on curriculum development.

When her husband was laid off, however, Ebert began to seriously consider taking on more responsibility.

Now, heading into her sixth year as a principal, “I feel like I sort of landed into this accidentally almost, but it’s been a real fit for me,” Ebert said.

She misses having a classroom, but enjoys what she calls the “global perspective” she now has knowledge of how a school functions.

“When you’re in your classroom, your perspective is really limited to those kids. But as a principal, you see that global perspective on learning and how the pieces all fit into place and what an impact you can have as a leader,” Ebert said.

Moving forward

Two of Bridgeport’s goals for the year, she says, include organizing an afterschool enrichment program and exploring a dual-language curriculum.

Ideally, the afterschool program will offer students classroom help and other development resources, and Ebert aims to hire an afterschool program coordinator in the coming week.

As for a possible dual-language program at Bridgeport, Ebert says she’s excited to work in a community that is so interested in adopting a system that many Portland-area schools have successfully launched.

“It’s great timing for Bridgeport, because we’ve got two schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville district that are doing dual-language programs this year, and Metzger went to a dual-language this year,” she said.

The framework is already in place at Bridgeport, thanks to the school’s successful Spanish literacy program.

“We do teach our kindergartners and first-graders in their native language, and they go into second grade and begin really getting the intensive English instruction for reading,” Ebert said.

A dual-language format would ensure that both native Spanish and English speakers become fluent in each other’s language, Ebert said.

A native Oregonian

Ebert was born in Portland but grew up mostly in Bend. In school, she was an avid reader who sometimes struggled with math. When she enrolled at Southern Oregon University, she had little idea what she wanted to focus on — until a second-year practicum course put her in a classroom and convinced her to become a teacher.

Although the title of principal can strike fear into the hearts of students, Ebert’s memories of being a shy student have at times benefitted how she relates to children.

“I think that kids sense that in you, so that’s always been a way that I can communicate and connect with kids that are more shy. Kids see that,” she said.

Off campus, Ebert spends much of her free time with her husband, a product designer at Logitech, and sons Alec, 16, who attends Sunset High School, and Will, 13, who is at Cedar Park Middle School. They recently took up kayaking as a family, Ebert says, and are big Red Sox and Mariners fans.

Even though she’s a new face on campus, she says, “I just feel like this is the right fit. For (students), for me, for everybody. I feel like we’re going to get to the place we’re trying to go much quicker, because everybody just wants to collaborate.”

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