New teachers, staff members acclimate to Oregon Trail School District in beginning of new year

This is a big year for the Oregon Trail School District as a whole, especially in terms of staffing. Many teachers have moved on to other districts and positions, and nine retired in June, leaving big shoes to fill.

Three new teachers joined the Firwood Elementary family on Sept. 5, Cedar Ridge welcomed two new educators to teach math and language arts, Oregon Trail Academy hired two new teachers to support its International Baccalaureate program and the district gained four new classified staff members to help students in and outside of the classroom.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: OREGON TRAIL SCHOOL DISTRICT - Denisse Aguilar RuizDenisse Aguilar Ruiz, 25

New to Firwood Elementary School, Denisse Aguilar Ruiz sees herself as following in the footsteps of a long line of great educators.

"I've had a lot of teachers that were life changing," she explained. "I wanted to be that person for other students. I'm looking forward to starting my career and having my own classroom."

Last year, the Portland native was a substitute teacher in Texas, so her third-grade class in Sandy will be the first class of her very own.

Ruiz obtained her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Eastern Oregon University. In her limited free time, she loves to explore.

"I really like seeing new places," she noted. "Anything that would give me a little bit of adventure or a new place."


Lisa Faris began her career as a teacher later in her life, but was quickly hooked. She looks forward to "getting to know my kids and the area out here, and helping (my students) to reach their personal best."

"I try to — even if it's one child each year — make them feel loved and cared about," Faris added. "(I enjoy watching them grow) from small children to nice adults."

Faris has a bachelor's degree in social and behavioral studies and a master's degree in teaching, both from George Fox University. Prior to Firwood, she taught at Alsea School.

When she's not planning lessons or tidying her classroom, Faris likes to spend time with family and watch sports.


A Gresham-Barlow graduate, Katie Tankersley is actually a Sandy native, and has subbed for teachers at Kelso Elementary School, Sandy Grade School and Firwood Elementary School — her new home.

Tankersley's love for teaching was realized through 16 years of coaching experience.

"I enjoy it so much, seeing the growth and the development," she explained. "I look forward to watching these little (kindergartners) grow and become little people."

Tankersley has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Portland State University and a master's degree in teaching from Concordia University.

When she's not helping coach volleyball at Sandy High School or teaching at Firwood, Tankersley likes to spend time with her own children, ages 6 and 9.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: OREGON TRAIL SCHOOL DISTRICT - Benjamin SchumacherBenjamin Schumacher, 30

Ben Schumacher recently left the world of music and recording tracks for one of books and backpacks, and he wouldn't go back.

"I was working as a volunteer with youth (while working as an audio engineer), and I really enjoyed it," Schumacher said. "I was looking for something a little more fulfilling, and I think I found it."

Schumacher completed his student teaching in the Portland Public Schools last year, and is now a math teacher at Cedar Ridge Middle School.

This year the Seattle native is excited to have a class of his own and see "what (my students) personally can get out of math."

"I'm looking forward to getting to know each and every student," he said. "(I believe) wholeheartedly in the critical importance of math education in teaching students how to navigate the challenges they face and succeed wherever their unique passions take them."

Schumacher obtained his bachelor's degrees in broadcast media and music recording from Gonzaga University and the University of Stavanger (Norway), and his master's degree in teaching from Concordia University.

He is a musician, record collector, and nature-enthusiast, and has a "weird" cat named Catherine Zeta Jones.


Billee Von Tersch's overwhelming love of children is what drove her to become a teacher.

"I concur with Yoda," she said. "'Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.' I love the transition from summer to fall because with it comes crisp air, a new school year, and football."

Von Tersch feels that her love for sports, animals and nature help her connect with her students. She played college soccer while obtaining her bachelor's degree in communication arts from Bellevue University in her home state of Nebraska.

She also holds a master's degree in education from the College of St. Marys, and a massage therapy certification, which she utilizes during the summer.

For the past three years, Von Tersch has taught sixth grade in the Reynold's School District, and is excited to be teaching seventh-grade language arts at Cedar Ridge Middle School.

"I'm looking forward to seeing kids be successful," she noted. "I can't wait to meet everybody. I am delighted to be a part of my new Cedar Ridge family."

When she's not teaching, Von Tersch enjoys "exploring the Pacific Northwest" with her husband and new puppy Cooper and spending time at home with her cat Sylvestré, bird Inky and "flock of happy hens."


A lifelong traveler, Luke Vieira loves learning about different cultures and seeing new sights, but also understands that not every person has the opportunity to go all of the places he did as a child. That's why he became a teacher.

"I wanted a skill I could travel with, but I also know not all students get to (travel)," he explained. "The classroom is the closest they come to accessing the world before they're out in it."

Originally from Lisbon, Portugal, Vieira is now teaching fifth grade at Oregon Trail Academy. He received his bachelor's degree in social studies and a master's degree in elementary education from Portland State University.

Prior to coming to Boring, he worked for several different independent charter schools, and while he is looking forward to getting to know his new students and teaching a new class of kids, he is most excited about the unique administrative structure of the Oregon Trail School District.

"I am most excited about being part of a union and being where the union and administrative offices have a positive relationship," Vieira said.

As a highly dedicated educator and father, Vieira joked that he doesn't have time for hobbies.

"I have two toddlers, so I don't even remember what I used to do in my free time," he noted. "If I had free time I would probably sleep."


Tara Fagan had seen many a pirouette in her day before finding her passion for teaching. She danced professionally for about 15 years after obtaining her bachelor's degree in dance performance and choreography from the California Institute of the Arts.

While dancing, Fagan began instructing a creative movement class for children and found she loved teaching. It was after this realization that she went to Lewis and Clark College to earn her master's degree in elementary and early childhood education with a concentration in English for speakers of another languages (ESOL).

"I love facilitating thinking," she explained. "I don't feel there's enough critical thinking being taught in schools. That's one of the main reasons I became a teacher."

This is her second year as a classroom teacher, having spent 10 years as a teaching artist and in her first classroom at Portland's Lincoln Park Elementary School last year.

Now she teaches fourth grade at the Oregon Trail Academy.

"I just love that this school issue inquiry-based," Fagan said. "I've already noticed what great thinkers my students are, and I'm excited to see where they go."

When she's not in a classroom, Fagan likes to visit her friend's off-the-grid homestead in Montana and help with gardening and farming. She also enjoys a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking and camping.


After finding he'd rather instill a passion for science in a classroom than work a 9-to-5 job in a research lab, Zach Duell packed up his bachelor's degree in biochemistry and biophysics and went for a master's in teaching from Concordia University.

"I got into a research-based science career, and it wasn't quite as exciting as I thought it would be," Duell explained. During his practicum though, the Gresham native found he could still use his scientific knowledge and had great chemistry with students.

"I really connected with this one student, and changed it around for them," he said. "That's when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I really like that moment when a student makes a breakthrough — when they do something they didn't think they'd be able to do. It doesn't happen every day, but when it does, it's awesome."

Now Duell teaches science and math for the district's Blended Learning Center, located in a module outside Sandy Grade School.

In the center's current location, resources and space are limited. In the renovated Pioneer building, there will be several science lab rooms to utilize, and that is what Duell is most excited about.

"I'm looking forward to when we finally get to move into the new campus," Duell said. "You can only get so much out of online labs."

When he's not teaching, Duell enjoys drumming and tinkering with computers.


Over the years, Thomas Moll's career in the education field has morphed more than once, each time teaching him something new about himself.

After obtaining a bachelor's degree in history from Portland State University, Moll found himself driving a bus for Portland Public Schools, and eventually aspiring to take his efforts from the road to the front of the class. He then returned to PSU for a master's degree in education.

"Once I started (driving the bus) I realized I really liked working with the kids," Moll said. "I really like working with students who are really passionate about something. I like to see passion in other people.

After teaching in a classroom for 10 years, he subbed as a school media specialist for a time and was soon again in transition.

"I had no idea I would love it so much but I did, so I went back to get an endorsement in library media," he explained. "The library is not just about books anymore, though books are still a really big part of it. With the internet so much is available just at our fingertips. I'm really excited about showing kids the exciting ways to access information we have now."

Moll is now a media specialist for Naas Elementary School and Sandy Grade School.

When Moll isn't working, he can be found making improvements to his house, hiking, spending time with family or reading.

His book of choice at the moment is a fictional account of a man living in post-Hurricane Sandy Long Island.


To new Sandy High School speech pathologist Audrey Crippen, the phrase "communication is key," is an understatement.

After obtaining her bachelor's degree in business management from Southern Oregon University, Crippen later found her true calling was helping students find their voice. So she enrolled at Pacific University in pursuit of a master's degree in speech language pathology.

"I have a passion to help people communicate," Crippen said. "I waned to be face-to-face and help them with their communication needs."

At the high school, she works to build students' social skills and help them better comprehend classroom materials and interact with peers and teachers.

"I'm excited to work with high schoolers and help them transition into adulthood with all of their communication needs," Crippen explained. "Communication will be a part of their everyday lives, so I want to be there to help them."

When Crippen isn't working, she likes to spend time with her family, hiking and going to plays and concerts.

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