When Kate Kelleher first set foot in the Sherwood School District in December 1979 to be a sixth-grade substitute teacher at Sherwood Middle School, the town was a vastly different place than it is now.
Sherwood had a population of 3,000, and Hopkins was the only elementary school, she said. It was very agrarian. Kids would come to school wearing black boots from pitching hay or cleaning out horse stalls, and the custodian would hose off their boots before they walked into the school. There were about 100 kids in each grade one through five at Hopkins and there was not yet public kindergarten.
Kelleher had moved to Oregon from New Jersey, where she also had been a teacher.
I wrote letters to the Beaverton and Portland school districts, and they replied, Were hiring! But when I got here, they werent as there was a recession. Then I got the chance for a long-term substitute teaching job at SMS, teaching sixth grade from December to the end of the school year.
In New Jersey, there had been 13 kids per class, and there were 36 in my class here. I went from 13 to almost three times that many. Still, it was great to work here, but I never thought Id stay more than 30 years!
In the summer of 1980, Hopkins Principal John Wood interviewed and hired Kelleher to teach fourth grade, which she did for three years; then she taught fifth grade for 12 years before switching to a fourth-fifth blend.
She started the Hopkins Happenings school newsletter on a mimeograph machine 30 years ago and was a leader in starting the schools recycling effort in the late 1980s.
Beyond the school, Kelleher worked in the big picture of education with opportunities to serve as president/co-president of the Sherwood Education Association, on negotiating teams, as a building representative, union secretary and track/cross-country coach at Sherwood High School.
By the late 90s, after teaching in Sherwood for almost 20 years, I realized I wanted to do something outside the classroom, still supporting students - maybe teachers, too - but I wasnt sure just what, Kelleher said.
Then the SMS counselor took a one-year leave of absence, and Kelleher applied for the job. She had already started taking classes toward a degree in counseling and stayed at SMS for three years, explaining, In those days, you didnt need a credential if you were taking classes in the field.
Kelleher graduated from Portland State Universitys masters of school counseling program in 2004, which at 72 credits was a very hefty program for a masters.
When the school counseling position at Hopkins opened up, Kate applied.
I always felt that Hopkins was my professional home, Kelleher said. I was excited to return here.
While working as a school counselor, Kelleher continued to get involved in the big picture.
She collaborated with other school counselors to create a Sherwood K-12 counseling cohort, which paired them with state representatives from the Oregon Department of Education to bring Sherwood into compliance with the Oregon School Counseling and Guidance Framework.
I have been a leader with our youth services team that meets with members of county agencies that are involved with supporting students and families, and pairs them with school support, she said.
I have felt passionate about the district adopting the Oregon healthy teens survey to assess trends in eighth- and 10th-graders behavior. I have shared those results with the School Board, site councils and parent groups as well as teachers, which helps guide our school counseling programs for the district.
In addition, the SHARE Center in Sherwood came out of an idea the counseling team had to get a family resource center operational here. I was lucky to be a part of the team that got that off the ground with district support, Kelleher said.
With an elementary cohort for the four elementary schools in place in Sherwood, the school counselors teach social skills and bullying prevention.
In K through second grade, we teach empathy, problem-solving, anger management and learning skills, and for grades three through five, we teach bullying prevention with the steps to respect program, Kelleher said. We designed a survey that we use pre- and post-program at the third-grade level to judge the effectiveness of the program.
Kelleher said that she feels good about the opportunities that Sherwood has given her.
But when I look back at the last 30 years, funding has always been a problem in our state, she said. Funds have been cut every year. Thats been very frustrating for me. A lot of my family members are in education in different states around the country, and I have nieces and nephews taking orchestra and art in other states in elementary school, and their sports programs are funded too.
On another front, Ive really tried to embrace technology, Kelleher said. I love the new stuff, and I love to keep learning. Education is in my soul, and I feel public education is the most important thing our country does.
Kelleher also said that she has had some great mentors and learned from the best, adding, I hope the people Ive mentored have pieces of me that are part of them just as Ive made pieces of my mentors part of me.
Ive had the time of my life in Sherwood – this little girl from New Jersey has been very blessed, and I am thankful every day. Every single day, something wonderful is happening at school!
During her 30-plus years in Sherwood, Kelleher said she worked under many superintendents and 11 or 12 principals.
Its been a great experience to work in this district, she said. The kids call me Mrs. K, and it is rewarding to be here every day. Some of these kids leave a backpack of trouble at the door and come on in to learn. We meet them where they are at and try to take them to the next place so they can feel good.
At Hopkins, Kelleher oversees a variety of programs at the school, teaches classes to parents and staff, and eats with a lunch bunch every day, getting to know kids outside of her office.
The job of elementary school counselor is teaching social skills that include problem solving, being a conduit to county services, and preparing kids for the real world, she said. Its a busy day, but I dont try to do everything by myself. The power of many is bigger than the power of me. It takes a team to raise a kid.
Ive worked with some incredible people. I feel really lucky. I came out here thinking I would take it one year at a time, and I feel really thankful for the people who have been part of my journey.
But that journey isnt over yet. After she retires, Kelleher plans to continue teaching parents and teachers as a Love and Logic program trainer. She may become a CASA (court-appointed advocate for abused and neglected children) volunteer for kids or work with the American Red Cross Crisis Team for Children.
I am a busy girl, so Im going to stay busy, she said.