With classes at the Gervais School District getting underway last week, it's tough to tell who is more excited for the coming 2017-18 school year — the students or the staff members.
The Gervais School District has seen a lot of changes over the summer at the administrative level — with a new principal at the Gervais Elementary School and a pair of familiar faces as the new administrative team at the high school — bringing a high level of enthusiasm to the districts four schools.
Gervais Elementary School
Students at Gervais Elementary School this year will be greeted with a new face, that of Dr. Creighton Helms.
Originally from Medford, Helms is a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard who enters the district in his first administrative role after previously working in the Silver Falls School District in Silverton as a high school science teacher.
"I absolutely loved what I did," Helms said of his years in the Coast Guard, "but a number of circumstances while I was serving really began to tug at my heart that I saw my career as an educator."
After teaching in a nearby rural school district, Helms wanted to continue to pursue education at in an intimate community as he transitioned to an administrative position, which naturally drew him to Gervais.
"I am just a strong proponent of rural, small town, community-based, family-oriented education," Helms said. "That's one of the first things I noticed looking at Gervais. There is a family feel to this place, and that's what immediately attracted me."
Helms replaces former elementary school principal Sylvia Garcia, who is the principal of Sam Brown Academy and Director of Special Programs, and his new presence is welcome in the building, said assistant principal Kay Gage.
"The excitement he's bringing into the building because he's a brand new set of eyes – you can just feel it in the building," Gage said. "There's excitement happening, (the staff) really feels like we're going to be moving forward."
Helms is excited work with the staff and be a part of a community where the school district can act as the central focal point for the public as a whole.
"I love that idea of the school being the common denominator," Helms said. "The glue that holds the community together – because even after the bell rings, I think the reach of school, whether it's through sports or activities or working heavily with parents to get them involved – to be able to see this as not just a place where kids go to get an education, but it's so much more than that."
Gervais High School
While the elementary school welcomes a fresh face, the students and parents at Gervais High School will likely be acutely familiar with the pair who are taking on administrative duties this year.
Longtime teachers Ken Stott and Bob Martin step into the roles of principal and assistant principal at GHS, replacing former administrators Mike Solem and Kim Kellison.
Stott and Martin have been co-workers for years, and their move to the administrative side of the table continues a relationship that dates back nearly 30 years when the two were partners in the dugout as baseball coaches in Gervais.
"We've worked together for 20-plus years, not just on education," Martin said. "The feeling out period isn't there, because we're already familiar with each other. That's a blessing."
Martin has taught 17 years at Gervais in a variety of roles, and thinks the familiarity with the staff as a former teacher will help ease the transition to a new administrative team.
"I've got a good rapport with my staff – we were all teachers just last spring," Martin said. "There's no wondering what the new guy is going to do."
Martin is excited to write another chapter with his colleague, Stott, who moved to Gervais from California and has been in the district since 1989. Stott has seen four of his five children graduate through the district, while both of Martin's sons have done so as well.
"I'm mostly looking forward to the adventure," Stott said. "That's what I'm seeing it as. It's a rollercoaster ride."
While Stott and Martin were the seasoned veterans of the teaching staff, much of their co-workers at the high school are relatively new. Martin estimates that two-thirds of the staff has turned over in the last three or four years, and he sees the advantages with the new guard coming in and bringing their ideas and enthusiasm to the district.
"There's a lot of excitement bubbling out there with the changes and direction that they anticipate and the way Ken and I are looking at taking the building," Martin said.
"I think we're really looking forward to watching them," Stott said. "We just want to give them the tools and resources, get out of their way and watch the great things that they're going to do."
Gervais Middle School
With all the change going on at the high school, stability is the name of the game at Gervais Middle School.
"I'm like the veteran," said Principal Ann O'Connell, who is entering her fourth year at GMS. "I'm really grateful for that. There's enough newness out there that it's nice to have little spots that don't have as much."
With only one new teacher at the middle school this year, O'Connell is looking forward to focusing on strengthening the existing programs for the 2017-18 year. She points to the school's growing mentorship program that started last year, pairing 8th-grade students with 6th graders to teach on a monthly basis throughout the year.
"We tried to do that in an effort to reduce anxiety and feel like you have a big brother or big sisters to talk to," O'Connell said.
She plans on focusing more on their bully awareness programs and expanding after school activities to go beyond just education.
"Last year we put our toe in the water and started expanding fun activities after school based on what kids said they wanted to learn."
That includes cooking, art, choir, athletics and creating a Lego Robotics program by pursuing a grant.
"I'm hoping we get it, (but) if we don't, I still want to go forward with it," O'Connell said. "We really need to expand that STEM concept with our kids."
In addition to the fun, social side of school, O'Connell wants to make sure kids feel socially safe, knowing that the middle school years can often a breeding ground for social anxiety and isolation.
"Middle school is the place where you see that pretty clearly," O'Connell said.
Which is why the school is creating a "No One Eats Alone" program to help kids feel included at lunch, when there is often a handful of students who don't have anyone to sit and socialize with.
"This is our credo that no one is going to eat alone," O'Connell said. "If a kid is sitting alone at lunch, you invite them to your table.
"I know our school will be a better place with this emphasis."