Superintendent chooses the Henley High School principal for his strong leadership skills and track record

Ending a four-month process, Newberg Public Schools superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza announced at the March 11 school board meeting that Henley High School principal Mark Risen (pronounced rye-zen) will serve as lead principal at Newberg High School beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

“Mark is a leader with great energy, intensity and passion for working with kids,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “His focus on preparing every student to be successful in the 21st century and giving them the necessary skills to graduate aligns with our vision.”

The superintendent announced in December that the leadership structure at the high school would be changed from four small school principals to one lead principal with assistant principals in order to unite the school and streamline decision making, while at the same time preserving the small-school format and its benefits for SETH GORDON - Search over - Mark Risen (above), Yellow School principal Stafford Boyd and Chehalem Valley Middle School principal John Franco were named finalists after interviewing with stakeholder committees.

Risen, Yellow School principal Stafford Boyd and Chehalem Valley Middle School principal John Franco were named finalists after interviewing with stakeholder committees. From there, the finalists participated in additional interviews, site visits from and forums with student, staff and parents at NHS.

Le-Blanc-Esparza told the board that following the forums, she and assistant superintendent Dave Parker went through every piece of paper submitted and quoted one parent whose comment was particularly resonant considering what the superintendent was looking for: “I consider him a leader worth following.”

Student representative to the school board Olivia Pugsley thanked the superintendent for giving students an opportunity to have a voice in the process, to which LeBlanc-Esparza responded that all three candidates found the student audience to be the hardest they faced in the forums.

“I thought that was really worth my time to get to know the applicants,” Pugsley said. “Everybody who was involved really enjoyed writing down their strengths and weaknesses.”

LeBlanc-Esparza also pointed to the work Risen has done since taking over as principal at Henley in 2012, especially his focus on improving learning, enhancing a unified school culture, collaborative leadership and effective management.

In that time, Risen directed schoolwide efforts to improve student learning, including realigning to standards-based education and assessments, adopting a literacy plan and essential skills model that emphasizes a 100-percent pass rate on OAKS tests, focusing instructional leadership based on data, personal development and best practices, providing targeted support interventions, and overhauling technology.

In her site visit to Henley, the superintendent said she was inundated with positive evaluations from students and staff, including from a junior who stated that “if he can do half of what he did in Henley for Newberg, you’re going to appreciate him as a leader.”

“Mark wants ‘the best idea, not his idea’ to continuously improve the school, himself and his staff,” one colleague said. “He has the skills, experience and personal drive to bring those ideas to fruition.”

Before assuming his role at Henley, Risen served as the assistant principal and athletic director at Sprague High School in Salem for five years. Before that, he worked as a high school athletic or activities director and social studies teacher at Sheldon, Creswell, Sweet Home and Ashland high schools.

Risen told Newberg officials that it was a combination of Newberg’s already successful programs and the focus on success, friendliness and professionalism were key factors in his choice to pursue and accept the position.

A graduate of Western Oregon University, where he earned both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in education, Risen will begin working with the current administration at the high school this spring before coming aboard full time July 1.

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