With the retirement of The Dalles High School Principal Nick Nelson, current Vice Principal Kurt Evans will move into the top slot on July 1.
Evans, a native of Mosier who was a high school and college track athlete, began his teaching career in Portland and worked his way east, teaching in Cascade Locks for a few years before coming to the then-newly formed North Wasco County School District 21.
He taught high school math, then headed up the alternative school for six years before becoming vice principal at the high school in 2012.
He said there was no simple answer to why he wanted to become principal. “I inherently believe that you improve a community by improving the school first.” Bringing business in and improving downtown are good things, he said, “but nothing will really grow and improve in a community if the school system is not sound.”
He said the staff assembled at the high school over the last six years is “outstanding.” He’s visited other schools, and said, “what we have here is very, very unique.”
He added, “I have three of my own kids in this high school, and they’re just thriving here.”
Superintendent Candy Armstrong said, “I am very pleased to have Kurt Evans as our high school principal.”
She noted that since 2012, “the high school has made significant gains in our cohort graduation rate and in developing courses and program offerings that better meet the needs of all students. Kurt is well respected by staff and is very good at establishing positive relationships with students. He understands what it takes to effectively lead our high school and is ready to build on the foundation that has been established.”
She said applications are being screened for his current position and interviews will take place next week.
Evans said the issues this school has are minimal compared to other places and “the results that we’re getting here are just outstanding and that’s due in part really to the teachers.”
The high school has seen its graduation rate rise to a high of 87.1 percent last year, well above the state average of 75 percent.
Evans lauded Nelson, saying, “It’s just been a blessing to have him as a mentor these years. I wouldn’t have been nearly as equipped as I am if I didn’t have him.”
He said the two of them have together shaped the school the way it is now. “Really it’s in a good place, and I really just want to maintain continuity, to focus on instruction.”
Nelson, himself a graduate of The Dalles High School, class of 1969, taught grade school and middle school for 25 years, and was an administrator for 17. Most of it was spent in The Dalles schools.
“My biggest thing is, it’s always been about the kids,” Nelson said.
He said education was highly valued in his family, and his parents, who had limited educational opportunities themselves, made huge sacrifices to give him and his siblings opportunities.
“For me, it’s about never depriving a kid of hope, and it’s not my quote, it’s one I live by, though,” Nelson said.
He said he felt there would be a good transition to Evans’ leadership. “I think there’ll be continuity because we’ve been together for several years, and I believe that he will have his own style of leadership, but it will be what we’ve established as far as engaging and listening and empowering, inclusion and transformation. Those would be the critical attributes I think we have in common.”
Evans said he wants to focus on changing some small things, like having more integration with regular and special education students.
He wants to start a cadet program that would place a regular education high school junior or senior in a special education classroom as a helper. That is done at other schools also, he said.
He’d also like to start a transition program for older special education students, those age 18-21, that teaches life skills.
“My big thing is systems,” he said, “trying to make sure we’re being as efficient as we can with things, no different than running a business in that way.”
He’s also known for studying data to spot trends. He’s found some surprising results.
People were concerned under the trimester system that students who took one trimester of math in the fall, but didn’t finish the two-trimester course until the final trimester in spring, would lose some of their knowledge in the gap between the two trimesters.
What he found was the students who took it in fall and then in spring not only did not lose ground, but actually had higher GPAs than the students who took it in consecutive trimesters.
He said “that’s the importance” of data. People have thoughts that may be grounded in logic, “but there’s no basis for it other than it seems logical that you’d lose ground if you took a large break. I can’t explain why it doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t.”
Evans said his family roots go back generations in Mosier, where his family homesteaded in the 1800s, and he graduated from Wahtonka High School in 1991. He went to college for two years, then joined the Air Force, where he was stationed mostly in England, at RAF Mildenhall, before coming back and finishing at Portland State University and getting his teaching license at Concordia.
It wasn’t until he finished college that he decided on a teaching career. He’d worked with kids before at summer camps and enjoyed it, and he also was interested in coaching, which is what led him to high school teaching.
He taught a year of fifth grade in the Reynolds School District before teaching high school math at Cascade Locks for three years before coming to The Dalles.
He said of his work, “I’m just happy to be here and I’m happy to be working in this place, at this school in this moment; it’s great.”