New leader, new school
Drake Shelton, the new principal of Gresham High School, was stopped every few feet as he walked down the sidewalk in front of the new high school building.
"Hey, are you the new principal?" two young guys called out.
"Yes I am," he said, stopping and introducing himself. After exchanging names, hand shakes and welcomes, the trio discussed the progress on the new high school. In parting, Shelton urged the two seniors, both named Ethan, to keep checking in with him as the school year progresses.
A few more feet and 2019 graduate Kevin Leon, decked out in a hard hat and construction vest, catches up and shakes Shelton's hand, introducing himself. Shelton congratulated Leon on graduating and immediately getting a good job building the very high school he just attended.
A few more feet and a small clutch of Gresham High staff, lugging boxes and tubs of supplies and equipment, stopped Shelton and asked how they can get in the new building. He guided them to an open door and wished them well settling in.
"This is all about relationship building," Shelton said, smiling.
The Gresham resident was hired to lead the 1,431-student school at a challenging time. Only part of the new building will be open and functioning for the 2019-20 school year. Students will have to take a protected path through the construction zone to get to the cafeteria and there won't be a place to hold all-school meetings and assemblies this year.
Shelton's team is making adjustments to accommodate the ever-changing situation. For example, they will have two lunch periods instead of one as in prior years. And, while the weather allows, assemblies will be held outdoors in the athletic stadium.
Despite the challenges of running a bustling high school in the middle of a construction site, Shelton said he's anxious to start school in the new building.
"I'm excited about having the opportunity to work in the community I live in. I want to strengthen this community," he said.
Shelton was most recently an assistant principal at Parkrose High School. Prior to that, he was an assistant principal at Alliance High School, an alternative high school in Portland Public Schools.
He's made a mark. In 2016, while at Alliance, Shelton was named the state's Assistant Principal of the Year by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators.
Alliance principal Lorna Fast Buffalo Horse said of Shelton at the time, "Drake has the skills to succeed in any educational setting, but he has chosen to devote himself and share his talents with some of the most disenfranchised students in Oregon."
She praised Shelton for his "strong intellect, big heart, sly sense of humor, tech-savviness and humility" and predicted that he will "keep learning and growing, while serving as a talented and tireless school administrator."
Shelton has spent the first months of his tenure learning. He has been getting to know staff and working out how to run a school that's only partially complete. Shelton's been meeting with the high school teachers one-on-one and in small groups. Some staff, including assistant principal Jason Bhear, have worked over the summer on logistics for the new school.
"I don't think I've ever been around a team of folks that have worked as hard as these folks have worked over the summer. I don't have to micromanage them. The secretarial staff is great. It is refreshing to see all the work that happens," Shelton said.
He won't make any big changes in his first year as principal.
"My job this year is a lot of listening, looking and trusting," he said. "I'm going to have to trust a lot this year."
Shelton and his team have decided on three pillars to measure success: academics, attendance and behavior.
The next step is crafting strategies to implement the goals of improving on all three.
He expects to lead the staff and students to graduate at or above state average and be career or college ready.
In 2018, Gresham High School graduated 73.2% of seniors, below the state average of 78.7%, and below the 80% grad rate for Gresham High in 2017.
Getting to know the teachers and meeting student athletes already practicing on the athletic fields, Shelton said, "I can really feel the community in Gresham. I can feel the pride for Gresham High, Gopher pride. It's exciting to be a part of this."
Shelton sees his job as high school principal as leading adults.
"We lead the adults to motivate and inspire the students," he said.
Shelton was born and raised in Portland and graduated from Grant High School. He earned his administrator's license from Portland State University. He has a master's degree in teaching from the University of Portland and a bachelor's degree in sports management from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He played football for Grant and Shepherd and coached football for a while at Grant.
He's married with four daughters.
In his spare time, Shelton likes to go to the gym and admits parenting four daughters keeps him pretty busy.
And, he has his hands full with the new job leading Gresham High School.
Shelton's ready and looking forward to the challenge.
"How lucky am I to come into this new building? It's an exciting time for Gresham High School."
The Gophers are moving into their new den Wednesday, Sept. 4, the first day of high school, but construction of the new campus is only partially completed. Some of the building won't be ready for students for over a year.
Students will attend class in 53 new classrooms in the three-story "learning tower" wing. The theater complex at the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street will be ready for student performances and band and choir classes this winter.
But, the gym, library, offices and other features are just bare ground under some rubble.
Students will attend school in a construction zone, as they did last year while the learning tower was being built.
The old cafeteria is still standing, but to get there students must walk through the construction zone.
Workers will provide a clear, safe pathway to the cafeteria.
There will be two lunch periods at the school instead of one, to keep things running smoothly. The final phase of construction also will include improvements to the school's kitchen.
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