Q&A with Dianda 'Dandy' L. Stevens
For the past four years, Dianda "Dandy" L. Stevens has been assistant superintendent at Silver Falls School District in Silverton, with about 3,900 students. At Silver Falls, she also served as middle school principal for three years and as a high school assistant principal for eight years.
Her teaching experience includes four years as a language arts teacher in high school and four years teaching overseas. She became a nationally board certified teacher in 2002.
She was raised in Ashland and has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Portland State University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Stevens, age 50, lives in Oregon City with her husband, Andy Stevens. They have a blended family — he has two boys, and she has two girls. Two are in college and two are seniors in high school. Her husband owns Premier Custom Homes, specializing in remodeling.
What are your priorities in running a school district?
I want to make sure that we create an opportunity for kids when they graduate high school that they have as many doors open to them as possible, whether they want to go right to work or a military career, technical or college. To do that, you have to have a pretty diverse offering of classes for kids to take in high school, as well as those other things that speak to their heart. That work begins even in kindergarten up through high school. You have to make sure that we're meeting their emotional needs, teaching them how to be resilient and develop their character so that they can access their education. … My other priority is making sure that the community feels connected to their school system, and that they feel like their school system is working for them and with them, so it's a good partnership so that we can recreate the very best workforce. Hopefully, our kids will want to come back to our community and raise their own families here after they go out and spread their wings for a while.
What is your financial philosophy?
Are you more conservative or progressive? I'm conservative. I want to make sure that we have a nest egg so that when we have another recession — because we know we will — that we are prepared to meet the budgetary constraints that happen. At the same time, I also want to be looking at needs that we have, and if we have to spend the money to meet the needs of those kids, and we're able to do so, that we do. I want to make sure that we're sustainable, so that we're implementing practices and programs that once you make the initial investment, it becomes part of your practice. It has to be very purposeful and strategic.
Everybody recognizes it's a good district. I would agree with that. I love the conversations people are having that we want to be a great district. How do you look at what you're doing well and become even better has been something that has been a passion of mine in any job I've ever had. If you talk with people that I've worked with, I'm not afraid to push people and ask them to challenge themselves. What does it take to go from good to great? How can we make that happen? Also, going to that next level and making sure it's not dependent on any one person, so making sure that there's really good buy-in from everyone, community members, kids, faculty, your administrators, so that as the players change, the practice doesn't change, and you're still operating at that high level.
What would you want to tackle first in the Crook County School District?
The most important thing is going to be establishing a relationship with staff. Because your superintendent has been here so long, there's safety and security in that in knowing what to expect, and people are going to be uncomfortable and anxious about who am I, if I'm selected, and what are my values, and how am I going to approach things, so establishing the relationships and also getting out in the community.
What is your leadership style?
I like to grow leaders. No one can depend solely upon one person – the superintendent – to be the leader of the district. That's the face of the district, and that's the bridge between faculty and administration and the school board and the community, but I want to find where people's strengths are and capitalize on them to make them the very best leaders that they can be.
How has your career history led you to this position? I taught overseas for four years and was a language arts and health teacher and then went to Gervais for five years, where I was the high school language arts, Writing 121, journalism, newspaper and yearbook teacher, then into administration, and I've been in Silverton 15 years. Throughout my career in Silverton, I've had many different leadership positions in the district.
What is one of the biggest challenges that you faced in your previous work that you were able to overcome?
When you spend a lot of effort, time and money to make changes in programing but then you don't spend the time building the capacity and the buy-in from staff, it can become very frustrating. When I was the principal of the middle school and as I moved into HR, there were several initiatives we had, where we had spent a lot of time and resources on particular programing and really weren't seeing the results that we were expecting. About three or four years ago, our superintendent took the administrative team through an activity where we sat down and crafted a vision and a mission statement, and we then came up with one of our nonnegotiables. Every building, every principal, this is what you have to do. That's hard. Because every building and every principal is responsible to their own parents and their teachers, and getting that buy-in is difficult work. But, we're beginning to see the benefits of that work. Test scores are improving, graduation rate is really high. Our teachers are empowered because they're doing their own professional development and are gaining from that. Those really difficult conversations and a little bit of stress has had dividends in the end, but you have to have the long-range vision and not get stuck at "This is really hard work. I don't want to do it anymore."
What excites you about Prineville?
I really liked the things that the board was talking about and what your administrators were reporting on in terms of the math initiative that they have going on, and making sure that they're involving community. Again, it's a small district, and I am drawn to small districts. I also think that the piece that is exciting to me is when you work in a small district, when you try new things, it's easy to see if it's working. It's easier to monitor. Is it being implemented with fidelity? What are our results? What can we do different to change these results? You can quickly make adjustments. In a larger district, it's very difficult to drill down like that, and when you're wanting to get excited about change in education, helping kids, being in a small district, seeing those results you can identify the kids, that's power, and that's why I'm drawn to Crook County.
Why do you think you would be a good fit, and why do you think they should hire you?
I think that I've demonstrated in the tasks I've done throughout my career that I am committed to the work until the work is done, and the idea that I have really good relationships with people. I trust people to do their job and to come to me if they're needing help, and I hope that people will trust me that I will do my job and help them as best as I can. Having that really focused concentration on being a member of the community, being invested in the district, taking small steps, that's my passion, so I'm hoping that that works out for us.