by: BARBARA SHERMAN - HEADING BACK - Sherwood School District staff members enter the Sherwood High School gymnasium for the annual Back to School rally Aug. 28 between rows of SHS band students belting out rousing music to kick off the event.The Sherwood School District’s annual “back to school” rally for the entire staff was a real love-fest this year.

Held Aug. 28 in the Sherwood High School gymnasium, the district’s 255 teachers, 226 classified staff and 10 administrators plus several community leaders were treated to inspiring talks designed to kick off the new school year.

Instead of entering quietly and clambering up the bleacher steps, the staff walked into the gymnasium between two rows of SHS band members belting out lively and inspiring music.

And the event wasn’t all serious talks about education as the speakers had some fun too.

Superintendent Heather Cordie and Chief Academic Officer Gary Bennett like to use public occasions to tease each other about their personal proclivities.

Bennett, who acted as master of ceremonies, explained that Cordie is a bit of a cleanliness freak and every Friday afternoon can be found moving through the school district’s headquarters, sanitary wipes in hand, going over surfaces that might be contaminated, including the back of his chair.

Bennett was careful to wipe down the podium and microphone before inviting Cordie to step up for her part of the program.

Cordie noted that the school district had a lot of media attention over the past year, and in one instance, after a school bus with no students on board was rear-ended, a local television station wanted to interview an administrator about it at Archer Glen Elementary.

Cordie tried to dispatch Bennett, who she emphasized is a suit-and-tie kind of guy, and he didn’t want to go because he wasn’t wearing a tie. By the time she convinced him to go, the television crew had moved on to another story.

Cordie presented Bennett with a lovely lavender-striped tie to have on hand in case he has another media emergency.

On a more serious note, perhaps no one emphasized the importance of educators more than SHS ASB President Ryan Ax and ASB Vice President Shayna Taylor. Beyond the facts that can be learned through Google, Ax told the teachers they teach such values as perseverance, hope and integrity.

Taylor told them, “You are all more than your job description,” noting they are mentors and role models. “You’re way better than Mr. Google,” she added.

Sherwood Education Association President Terrel Smith said that when he started teaching in 1989, the average class size was 19.

And as class sizes increased, “we protested that we could not teach science safely with 24 students,” he said. “Boy, to have those days back!”

Smith added that large class sizes, more furlough days, less janitorial support, fewer benefits and reduced retirement funds are “not fair,” and he called for new funding sources to be tapped in Oregon to increase dollars spent on education.

“Workload matters, and class size matters,” said Smith, standing in front of a sign that read, “Teachers + classified + administration + board one big voice, 70,000 strong.”

Sherwood School Board President Sue Hekker told the staff that although “you’ve been tasked every year to do more with less, technology cannot replace human beings.”

She pointed out that Money Magazine recently listed Sherwood as No. 5 on its list of best places to live, in part due to its quality schools. Sherwood was the only city in Oregon to make the list, moving up from No. 18 on the list in 2007, Hekker noted.

“We have top-ranked schools, and we are being noticed at the state and national level over and over,” she said. “I am asked, ‘What makes Sherwood schools different?’ It is all about the kids – there are no do-overs for these kids.”

Bennett lauded the district for working toward ensuring that every child meets his or her individual growth target in reading, writing and math.

Also, he noted that the district transitioned to proficiency-based learning even before House Bill 2220 passed. HB2220, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2011, requires school districts to ensure that students demonstrate all skill and knowledge requirements of the standards.

Superintendent Heather Cordie, who started her fourth year with the district July 1, noted that the district continues “to do more with less” and applauded its efforts to be values-driven instead of events-driven.

She has always encouraged staff members to share their stories, and each year she revealed more about her upbringing in rural Eastern Oregon.

Cordie noted that the day of the rally – Aug. 28, 2013 – marked the 10th anniversary of the death of her dad, who gave her such life lessons as “work hard” and “tell the truth.”

She has followed one of his tenets in particular: “Our job is to always leave things better than we found them.”

The rally’s keynote speaker was Peg Portscheller, national education consultant and trainer, who said that the most important people in the room were Ryan Ax and Shayna Taylor.

Portscheller, whom Cordie first called upon when she became superintendent, said she had a teacher who changed her life and she became an English teacher because of that person.

Portscheller, who travels around the country visiting schools and talking to administrators, teachers and students, told the staff, “What you do matters… We are called to this work because we believe in each child, and we can make a difference.”

She lauded the courageous teachers who protected and even gave their lives for their students during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 and during the tornado that leveled two schools in Moore, Okla., in May. Portscheller also gave kudos to the level-headed front-office employee at a school outside Atlanta, Ga., who talked a would-be shooter into surrendering in August.

She urged the staff to put students “on the path to make their dreams come true,” and added, “May this be your best year ever.”

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