A bi-lingual administrator has taken the helm at Chenowith Elementary School.
Principal Monica “Mo” Darnall comes to The Dalles from Utah, where she and her husband lived for five years, but she’s an Oregon native who has spent most of her career here.
Chenowith also has a new bi-lingual secretary, Claudia Silva. “We have 51 percent Latino students, and we haven’t had bilingual office staff,” Darnall said. “So we really are wanting to build more community and have families feel like this is really their second home.”
She said, “My philosophy is that all students can learn and that we need to build a community of support for them, and I’m very excited to get more community into Chenowith and starting to do more activities as a community school, rather than just kids come to school and it closes at the end of the day.”
She said her focus will be on improving attendance. “We have a chronic attendance problem, and it really affects students, and we’re going to try to work on how we can support families and students so that they can be in attendance. Sometimes, it’s transportation. There’s a plethora of reasons. We are even staging a clothes closet to support students that might be in need of clean clothes or supplies.”
Some students don’t have soap to wash their clothes. “Just providing the basic needs to help them be successful, to focus on the learning, because it’s really the learning that’s going to change their lives,” she said.
She believes it’s “important that students learn life skills and not just testing skills, and I’m very much a team player. I want everybody to be on the team and everybody supporting each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and when we recognize that we can all be a lot stronger.”
She said, “We have amazing teachers who go above and beyond. Many teachers give up their morning prep time to have students for homework club or math club or just activities to help them grow. That’s their prep time; they’re giving up a half hour of their morning to help students.
“We have a very passionate staff here.”
Darnall grew up on a farm in West Union in the Hillsboro area and graduated from Glencoe High School. She finished her the credits needed for graduation before her senior year, but she took some electives so she could still qualify for school activities, including sports and cheerleading. The rest of her day she spent working at a daycare.
That was when she knew she wanted to go into teaching. “I wanted to be with kids; it was always my passion,” she said.
Her first degree was in communications, with a minor in Spanish. She went to school in Seville, Spain.
She worked in title and escrow for a time, had two kids, then went back to school at George Fox University and got her master’s of art in teaching.
“I always knew I was going to be a teacher, I just took a different route,” she said.
She was a bilingual teacher at Dayton Elementary in Dayton, Oregon, and then moved back to Hillsboro where she worked as a classroom teacher, an ESL teacher and a teacher on special assignment, the first step into administration.
In Hillsboro, she was able to be part of the staff to open a brand new elementary school.
When she was a stay-at-home mom, she “did a lot of community activities enriching students’ lives.” She started programs for children with a local parks and recreation district, helping get an indoor play facility built.
During her five years in Utah, she finished her administrative work at Southern Utah University.
She and her husband Tom have a blended family of four kids, and they have five grandkids. All of their children are college graduates working in the business world.
When she’s not working, she loves being outdoors and enjoys gardening and hiking. “I was so excited when I found out Chenowith had this wonderful garden space,” she said.
She also loves fly fishing and said, “I can get back to skiing now that I’m close to Mt. Hood again.”