With chocolate in tow for everyone she meets, Colton's new superintendent Koreen Barreras-Brown sees herself as a facilitator of communication in a wonderful community.
Koreen Barreras-Brown was hired as Colton's interim superintendent in January 2017. In March, the board decided to keep her on, and she now has a three-year contract with the school district.
This will be her first time in a superintendent role, but her career in education stretches 24 years. Her diverse resume includes teaching, supervising early learning, administration, working with at-risk youth, and faculty advising at a private university.
When she first came to the school district, she wanted to start fresh. She didn't want to know what happened with the previous superintendent.
"I asked them not to tell me," Barreras-Brown said. "I didn't want to pass judgment."
She also wanted to know what the people desired from a superintendent. She was pleased to find that they had already conducted a survey to determine their needs.
"That keyed me in to knowing that this was a place that really cared about kids," Barreras-Brown said.
She learned that the people wanted someone to listen, to be consistent and supportive, and to be a resource. The community also wanted a person who was a part of the community.
Barreras-Brown comes from Camas, Wash., but her family is working to move closer to the area.
"They just wanted somebody engaged in this community," she said. "And that's who I am as a person."
She then created an entry plan based on their needs, which would guide her work for the first 30, 60 and 90 days. The plan's stated purpose was "to establish a system for a transparent, smooth transition of the new interim superintendent."
As a part of this plan, Barreras-Brown established "listening and learning sessions" which involved her meeting once a month in each building with educators, once a month in each building with students, and once per month with community members. She plans to continue the sessions in the upcoming school year.
She found her sessions with the elementary students to be particularly insightful.
"My kindergarteners…they were hilarious. They gave the best feedback," she said.
She continued, "Across the board, K-12 kids want to move more in their classrooms."
She then takes the information from the sessions and reports back to the teachers and to her advisory council, which consists of parents, educators, administrators and the lead custodian.
With all of the gathered information, Barreras-Brown and her advisory council have developed the Colton School District Strategic Improvement Plan for 2017-2018. Background on the plan can be found online at https://www.colton.k12.or.us/cms/lib/OR02213525/Centricity/Domain/60/Communication%20Plan.pdf.
The plan is not all new. The advisory council went over the literacy plan and the technology plan that had been created under the previous superintendent, and made goals to implement those plans.
The strategic plan also includes goals for improving the district's already excellent graduation rate to 90 percent. This will involve a shift from some traditional school practices to those that acknowledge varied learning, emotional and social needs.
She used the example of what happens when a student is tardy.
"In our traditional truancy, you suspend kids," she said. But, inspired by the high school principal Tori Hazelton, the school district is considering a different approach.
"When you first see a kid walk in late, even if they're carrying a Starbucks coffee…when you see them say, 'Good morning, how are you, good to see you!'" Barreras-Brown said.
But while Barreras-Brown has been at the center of planning for improvements, she isn't changing everything.
One of the reasons she wanted the job in Colton was because of the district's existing mission statement, which is: "A partnership of parents, students, school and community dedicated to quality learning and the continual pursuit of excellence."
She has kept that intact and is excited about working with the people of Colton.
"I feel like it's all these amazing people that are providing me the opportunity to facilitate the work that we're doing," she said. "And it's awesome. It's a dream—I think—of most leaders."