Stephenson targets financial problems, curriculum and public image

Not even a month into her leadership of the Estacada School District, Superintendent Marla Stephenson has made plenty of changes.

Her first moves have been to reorganize the leadership roles in the district.

Stephenson said, in looking at the district’s previous organizational chart, she noticed that there were several people doing pieces of jobs, rather than having one person in charge of and accountable for certain leadership areas.

Stephenson decided to tidy up the chart and set to work “moving capable people up to coordinator positions.”

For example, former executive secretary Sabrina La Londe is now heading the district’s human resources and labor relations and former Operations Administrative Assistant Julie Theander is in charge of nutrition services.

“The result? We now have breakfast and lunch that will be available to all students, for free, in grades K-8. And that’s huge,” Stephenson said. “I shouldn’t say as a result of that, it wasn’t magic. Julie now has the time and the responsibility and the authority to be able to apply for a grant.”

“You need to put the right person on the right seat on the bus and good things can happen,” she said.

Stephenson also said she noticed that Business Manager Donna Cancio had a narrow scope of authority for someone of her talent and abilities.

Cancio has been given responsibility “on the entire financial side of the house” and has been named the Executive Director of Administrative Services.

Other changes include reducing the athletic director position to part time and giving it to Ryan Carpenter, who also will continue on as Estacada High School Vice Principal.

In order to help with Carpenter’s disciplinary burden, Counselor Jim Carey will now serve as an intervention counselor.

In addition, Stephenson said the Estacada School District has gone many years without a director of curriculum and instruction, which is unusual.

It also has been years since the district has looked at curriculum and curriculum adoptions.

“This is the perfect year for us to look at whether the materials we are using for students fully help kids be successful in our new Common Core Standards,” Stephenson said. “So I expect to have a number of adoptions completed by the spring of this next year and implemented a year from now.”

Toward that end, Dr. Susan Inman has been hired as the district’s new director of curriculum and instruction.

Through this restructuring, Stephenson noted some employees have transferred to other offices, but the district has not lost any employees.

This restructuring of district roles, Stephenson said, is a move toward addressing her larger financial concerns for the district.

Stephenson sees continued declining enrollment and the lack of adequate funding for public education as the biggest challenges facing the Estacada School District.

Lack of funding, Stephenson said, leads to a vicious circle of loss.

Loss of funds means cut programs, making the district less attractive, which loses students.

When the students go, the district loses government funds based on enrollment. Without those funds teachers get cut and then central office staff is reduced.

Stephenson plans to attack the problem on multiple levels.

The question of how to spend Estacada’s limited funds to attract families to the district will be an area of focus for her moving forward.

Stephenson said the question of reconfiguration also will be given attention.

She noted that, as it stands, there is disproportionate enrollment numbers in Estacada’s two elementary schools. Clackamas River Elementary faces overcrowding while Eagle Creek Elementary faces a declining student body.

Stephenson acknowledged that the junior high is too small and that, in general, the junior high model is outdated.

She said the size of Estacada’s schools needs to be looked at and reconfiguration should be considered.

Prior to Stephenson’s arrival, the issue of reconfiguration raised a lot of attention in the district last year.

The Estacada principals shared their recommendation for a five-year plan for the district with the Estacada News.

The plan involved a centrally located cluster of schools with River Mill Elementary serving as a primary school, Clackamas River Elementary as an intermediate school and sixth-grade moving to the junior high. Eagle Creek Elementary would be repurposed.

The principals acknowledged that this idea was a recommendation only and that they would defer to the new superintendent to take the lead on this matter.

By this time next year, Stephenson said she’d like to have settled the reconfiguration issue.

However, as of July 28, Stephenson said she has yet to formally discuss reconfiguration with the principals or the school board, though she has heard reconfiguration plans floated “from all sides.”

Stephenson did not indicate her opinion on plans yet but said she wants to make sure “our focus is strictly on children and what is best for their learning.”

Among her other goals for her first year as superintendent of the Estacada School District, Stephenson said she wants to emphasize the need for community involvement in the schools.

“At this point, we don’t have enough resources without help,” she said.

She plans to create a menu of volunteer opportunities for community members whether they have children in the school or not.

“What I’m looking for is if you can only devote a day a year to the district, then you’re a perfect candidate to be a part of our career day. If you can do four times a year, you’re a perfect candidate to serve on our community panel. If you can commit six days a year you’d be a perfect candidate to be part of a strategic planning process. If you could commit once a week, you’d be a perfect person to assist us in keeping our libraries open and serving kids. If you can do more than that you’re a perfect candidate to be part of our tutoring program that I hope to bring to the district,” she said.

Stephenson wants to hear community input on the three to five most important things to produce 21st century learners.

So far, Stephenson said she’s been doing a lot of listening and making time in her day for community members to stop by in an effort to make the system more accessible.

“Parents need access,” Stephenson said. “It’s not easy raising a child in today’s world. There are so many reasons for that. They look to the schools for answers and for assistance. A key piece of that is to be accessible. And it’s not just accessibility of the superintendent. It’s the system that has to be accessible, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”

In all, Stephenson hopes to perpetuate the image that the Estacada School District is healthy and vibrant.

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