Across 40 pages of comments a wide swath of community members, from students to city officials, described the strengths and weaknesses of The Dalles and its schools, and what they want in a new superintendent.
The robust catalogue of comments is now online, available for superintendent candidates to get a sense of the community and what it wants in a new school district leader.
High praise of teachers was rife throughout the “stakeholder report,” available at macnjake.com, the website of McPherson & Jacobson, the executive search firm hired by the North Wasco County School District 21 board to help replace Candy Armstrong, who retires next June.
Dr. Nathan McCann, with the search firm, was particularly impressed with student comments. “I was blown away by the level of thoughtfulness of the students and their desire to be held accountable…they talk about real issues that are impacting them.”
Students said to the future superintendent: “Don’t get caught up in the adults stuff, be here for the kids.”
They also said, “We need consequences that matter and are appropriate to help us make good decisions.”
They also wanted “More effort to let students at The Dalles Middle School know that grades and being successful matters. It is too late to teach this only at the high school level.”
On challenges facing the district, stakeholders listed the 60-year-old division between The Dalles and Chenowith area and lingering bitterness over the way the former D12 and D9 were merged into the current D21.
Stakeholders often cited the poor condition of schools, saying dilapidated buildings are “frankly dangerous” and either too hot or too cold, but always overcrowded. “We need new schools—yesterday…and a few in our community do not understand that and are very vocal,” one teacher said.
Mistrust was also frequently mentioned across stakeholder groups, saying it existed between staff and the superintendent, and between the community and the school district.
One commenter said the community had “a sense of misuse of funds, perhaps unfounded, but present.”
Teachers also cited a “bargaining crisis” in union negotiations, high staff turnover, low wages, low staff morale, mistrust between staff and the superintendent, and a feeling that some initiatives are developed “in secret.”
Communication was listed as a “huge need” both within the district and to the community.
Also cited was an increasing number of students facing trauma and poverty, “overwhelming serious behavior problems,” high rates of students who are English Language Learners, and inadequate staff levels.
On the plus side, stakeholders lauded The Dalles for its recreational opportunities, rich history, natural beauty, budding economic opportunities, cultural and artistic offerings, diversity, giving community spirit, and small town feel.
Of the school district, highlights included dedicated, hardworking, caring, compassionate teachers who devoted their personal time and money to working with after-school programs. One commenter said, “It is obvious that many feel called to their profession” and another said they go “above and beyond for our students.”
Also lauded were a variety of clubs and activities for students to participate in, from butterfly club to robotics, choir, theater, chess club and sports.
Staff described themselves as close-knit and supportive, and teachers said they were trying bold new initiatives that are in line with the more innovative education work happening across the country.
Another teacher cited strong career-technical electives, another program that helps students who are in the middle of the pack improve, and a slate of college-level courses.
Also listed were top graduation rates and improving test scores.
Stakeholders sought a superintendent who is an excellent communicator and listener with strong financial skills, bond passage experience, and the ability to hold staff accountable and fend off entitled longtime community members who feel they have a right to say what should happen.
Stakeholders wanted someone who is transparent, can rebuild trust and be visible in the community and in schools.
They want a strong leader who has knowledge of special education, the social/emotional needs of students, cultural sensitivity and experience working to create equity, or equal chances for all students to succeed, regardless of background.