Mark Pinder leaves Milwaukie with record-high graduation rates
Milwaukie High School Principal Mark Pinder joked to friends and co-workers that the last thing he wanted was to end up in the newspaper after he announced his retirement date to be June 29.
Pinder wouldn't get his wish after what being called MHS's Trophy-gate, in which he threw a load of trophies in a dumpster and had to apologize. However, that's not the only thing that Pinder has done over the past decade to make an impact at the school.
At this newspaper's request, Pinder agreed to sit down for a recent "exit interview."
"It was an error and it wasn't made to denigrate the history of Milwaukie High," he said. "It's humbling to think about the responsibility that you have as principal, but it's the relationships with staff and students that makes this satisfying."
In addition to Trophy-gate, Pinder should be remembered for overseeing MHS as it achieved record-high graduation rates. MHS had 77.8 percent graduating in four years for the cohort graduating in 2017, driven largely by gains made among the school's approximately 30 percent Hispanic/Latino population.
MHS's graduation rate for Hispanic/Latino students was 46 percent in 2008-09 but reached 72 percent in 2014-15 and remained there in 2015-16. That dramatic increase closed the gap between Hispanic/Latino and white students' on-time graduation rates of nearly 29 percentage points.
A focus on academics came soon after Pinder's arrival to MHS, which corresponded with soul searching among staff members.
"Everyone blames me for the loss of our Living History Day that we used to put on until 2009," Pinder said. "It was a great connection for our kids, but the problem was that the nonprofit that was putting it on lost its funding. Also in my second year I had a group of teachers coming to me that said we need to have students focus more on their academics."
Pinder said he then oversaw a change in MHS culture that effectively told students, "We're here to prepare you for your next steps, and to do that you need to be here every day, and you need to be achieving." He has attributed Milwaukie's success to a district-wide focus on equity and to a staff that is culturally competent, creating a welcoming environment for both students and parents.
Pinder hired more Spanish-speaking staffers who greet parents and helped them create a Latino parent group. He was involved in an active PTA open to all MHS parents, which was started the fall of his first year at MHS.
Pinder encouraged his staff's efforts to identify the academic subjects in which each student needs extra support as a key element in keeping students engaged and in closing the achievement gap. Under Pinder, MHS also hasn't shied away from sending students to truancy court for chronic absenteeism.
Teams of staff meet once a week with a group of school counselors, mental and physical health providers, social workers and administrators to discuss ways to support at-risk students. They build individual intervention plans for these students, which can include academic support, mental or physical health care or other social services. An international education leadership association recognized these efforts with the 2013 Vision in Action Award.
Pinder started teaching in 1979 and taught chemistry for 15 years at Jefferson High School in Portland, where he was the head football coach. He taught geometry and served as athletic director at Lincoln High School. He left Lincoln in 2003 and came to Clackamas High School as assistant principal until 2008, when he was tapped for MHS, which has a history of principals serving long term. In the more than a century of history of MHS, Pinder was only the school's 13th principal.
"Every step in my career has been amazing," Pinder said. "But my time in Milwaukie has been the best 10 years I've ever had."
Pinder said that MHS is unique in the North Clackamas School District in sharing its boundaries so closely with city limits. He reflected that citizens, city officials, local businesses and Rotarians care deeply about the school and contribute to it with volunteer time and money.
Pinder has often been contacted by the mayor or city manager, for example in restarting a program to recognize the MHS students of the month at City Council meetings.
City Council agreed to have Milwaukie pay for a mural on the side of the MHS building painted by alum Chris Haberman. District administrators also negotiated a unique partnership with the city-sponsored food-cart pod at the MAX station next to MHS. For outstanding achievement and attendance, students are entered into a drawing to receive a $10 gift certificate at the Milwaukie Station Food Cart Pod. In exchange for renting an 8-by-8-foot space for dumpsters at MHS, the pod donates 40 gift certificates a year.
Construction began this summer on a new main building for MHS and remodels for much of the rest of the campus, including the student health center that was founded under Pinder's watch. The next couple of years most students will be studying in portables in the MHS football field. Pinder said that at least the portables (like the rooms in the new MHS building) will be 900-square-foot classrooms, when currently many classrooms in MHS are packed into less than 750 square feet.
Check out a video of Pinder helping break ground on the construction project.
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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