Heather Beck has been visiting to meet employees and help with hiring

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Heather Beck is the incoming superintendent of Lake Oswego School District. She starts July 1.Incoming Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck has plenty to contend with when she steps up to the plate this July, but LOSD also holds some advantages over other districts.

Beck isn’t waiting to learn the district’s strengths and challenges, already reaching out to district and school administrators and employees with regular visits from her home district in Colorado.

“It’s really about learning and listening for me,” said Beck, chief academic officer of Jefferson County Public Schools. “This is all about relationship building.”

On the plus side, voters recently passed a local option levy for the school district, and there’s the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation, which is amid a $2 million campaign to support teachers’ salaries. State funding for schools has increased. But, there’s a great deal of work for Beck to do with a real estate study coming out soon to help the district decide which school buildings to keep or sell. Three of the nine elementary schools, Palisades, Bryant and Uplands — shuttered to save dollars — and they could reopen, depending on the study. Bryant actually has been repurposed as part of Lakeridge Junior High School, which is next door. Lake Oswego Junior High PE classes are held in the Uplands gym. The Lake Oswego rowing club practices at Palisades.

“The community knows that we have significant challenges as we continue to work through the reorganizational process to get to the promised land of six elementary schools that are right-sized for this district’s needs,” said Bill Korach, the current superintendent.

Plus, there’s a state-mandated instructional schedule change requiring high schools to offer 130 hours per course, and, next school year, is the formal implementation of Common Core State Standards for English and math along with Common Core’s accompanying state testing.

“The implementation of this has been really fast, and the new testing requires software — software that we don’t even have,” said Laura Paxson Kluthe, president of the teacher’s union, Lake Oswego Education Association.

During Beck’s March visit, she had coffee with Paxson Kluthe and met her when she visited last week during interviews to find replacements for the Westridge and Forest Hills elementary school principals, who are retiring. Paxson Kluthe said, with the adoption of standards applying to evaluations, teachers feel pressured.

“We are public servants, so we need to be accountable,” she said. “Most teachers I know are working pretty darn hard.”

Paxson Kluthe said she feels Beck will be willing to give teachers “a place at the table.”

Beck said she’s impressed with the professionalism and skills of the people she’s met while visiting the school district.

“It’s really about getting to know the soul and spirit of the organization and getting to know what they want. ...The community has to decide what they want for their schools,” Beck said.

Beck’s concerned about the tension, in some cases, between the north and south sides of Lake Oswego.

“The only way to move this district forward is to move forward together as one,” she said.

She said it’s crucial to have the school board set clear goals and create a process for how to move forward. She said other important issues ahead include hiring a new football coach at Lakeridge High, renovations to the Lakeridge stadium and the potential unblending of some dual-grade elementary school classes.

“There’s a lot to learn, and she’s a quick study, and we’re working on it,” Korach said. “She’s going to do just fine.”

In May, Beck’s back again, for interviews with candidates for the director of secondary education’s job. The current director, Donna Atherton, will be taking on the human resources director position when the current head of HR, Mary Kaer, retires.

“The key purpose of me being out here is about the hiring and getting organized,” Beck said.

Beck said Korach has been “nothing but gracious in helping me with this transition.”

Her first day with the district is July 1, and Korach’s last day is June 30. He said his job right now is “to set the table,” so all is ready for Beck.

By Jillian Daley
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