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Kimberly Bonner is appointed as the new principal at Crooked River Elementary

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Cheri Rasmussen is the new principal of Pioneer Alternative School and tasked with increasing the graduation rate of nontraditional students, those not enrolled at Crook County High School.

When the Crook County School District Board hired a new superintendent this spring, they made it clear that raising academic performance would be her first priority.

One month into her tenure, CCSD Superintendent Sara Johnson took a bold step, pointed out Board Chair Scott Cooper.

"She chose to create a new principal position to work with non-traditional students to raise academic achievement," Cooper said.

Cheri Rasmussen, who has been the principal at Crooked River Elementary since 2007, was appointed to the new position. Kimberly Bonner, the vice-principal at Crook County Middle School since 2013, is the new CRE principal.

Rasmussen started her new job Aug. 1 as principal of Pioneer Alternative High School and Brothers School, and she will remain principal of Paulina Elementary, a position she has held since July 1, 2015. Rasmussen will also coordinate with Rimrock Trails and Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

She will oversee approximately 34 rural students and 84 alternative education high school students.

"I am super excited about working with all of the staff at Pioneer, Brothers and Paulina and any subsidiaries such as Rimrock and COIC. I don't quite know what my role is there yet," Rasmussen said earlier this week. "But, I am excited to work with high school kids again and want to bring some enthusiasm and hope that we can all get through this together and help them graduate."

Cooper pointed out that the district has been working over multiple years to raise the graduation rate. Oregon's graduation rate is 47th out of 50th in the country.

"When one in three students aren't graduating, that's a problem," Cooper said.

Efforts to raise the Crook County High School graduation paid off this year with a 90 percent graduation rate, Cooper said.

"But the overall district graduation rate — which includes all secondary education other than CCHS under the label 'Pioneer' — has remained stuck at 70 percent," he acknowledged. "The board wants a change."

Previously, CCHS Principal Michelle Jonas has managed Pioneer Alternative High School part-time. The school, housed in the Pioneer South building that was the CRE primary building, has roughly 50 students.

"With the new school year looming, there was no time to recruit from outside, so the superintendent chose to rearrange her team and task the member most capable of championing a reform, for the newly created position," Cooper said, noting that Johnson called board members individually to talk to them about her decision.

Johnson said the district is seeking to use high-impact approaches in their unrelenting efforts to reach all students.

"Teachers and principals are our most important resource," she said, adding that educators' effective work with students makes an enormous difference in levels of student success.

"We created a new position at Pioneer High to increase the ratio of adult to student, banking on the connections our staff will make with students," she said. "I am confident the changes we made in our buildings will pay off for students."

Cooper said choosing Rasmussen for the job makes a lot of sense.

"First, anyone who knows Cheri, knows that she is a competitor at heart. Her students will get the advocate they deserve, and Cheri will push for the resources necessary to meet their needs," Cooper said.

"My biggest goal, because I'm quite competitive, is to have one of the top graduation rates in the state," Rasmussen said. "My ultimate goal is to do what it takes to get our students graduating from high school."

Secondly, Cooper pointed out that Rasmussen's academic background is in math, an area where the district struggles to get kids across the finish line and where her leadership will be invaluable.

Lastly, he said, Rasmussen has indicated previously a desire to take her career as a professional educator to the next level.

"That necessarily means additional experience, preferably at the secondary level," he said. "This new position creates that new professional opportunity, and she can use this experience as a springboard to something else in the future, if she desires."

Johnson said Rasmussen was selected as the new principal at Pioneer because of her breadth and depth of expertise.

"She has the connection to our students, due to her length of tenure in Crook County," Johnson said. "She is the ideal person to add to the Pioneer team."

Although Rasmussen is excited about her new position, the change came as a "shock."

Johnson informed Rasmussen Tuesday morning, July 31 that her change in positions would take effect the next day.

"According to what I was told, they felt that with my relationship with students and the fact that I had high school experience that I was probably the most capable of taking Pioneer to where they deserve to go," Rasmussen said.

But that didn't make the transition easy.

"It was extremely hard. … It was a real shock because it was such an unexpected move," Rasmussen said of the short notification. "You don't spend 11 years of your life working 10 and 12 hour days to help build the staff who has such unconditional love for students without grieving once it's taken away. The Crooked River staff is exceptional about teaching students academics, social skills and personal skills. They are the best."

But in a way, Rasmussen pointed out, it's almost like coming home.

Her office is in the Pioneer South building on First Street, which was the nurse's room when the building was Crooked River Elementary.

"I'm back where my mother taught for 22 years, and I have her old desk in my office," Rasmussen laughed. "It's awesome."

As she cleans out her desk and begins to meet with staff to plan her new schedule, Rasmussen fondly remembers her days as Crooked River principal.

"I want all of my former students to know that I love them dearly, and I am only down the street four blocks," she said. "And to my staff, that they have been incredible staff, and the journey with them has been amazing, and I want them all to maintain and/or take Crooked River to the next level."

Cooper has known Rasmussen since high school and believes she was an effective principal for his own children. He looks forward to working with her in her new role.

"I am excited to see her entrusted with more responsibility, and as a board member, I will sleep better at night knowing she is in charge of this difficult problem of raising performance," Cooper said. "I understand the frustration of those who want things to stay the way they are, but I believe this decision was made in the best interests of Cheri and of all students in Crook County. She will make the changes that need to be made."

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