As a new vice principal at Newberg High School last year, Tami Erion found herself in a unique position after being tabbed to succeed lead principal Kyle Laier on an interim basis for the 2018-2019 school year.
She had the advantage of not only seeing the school with fresh eyes, but also having fresh ears to hear feedback from staff. Her big takeaway was that teachers had initiative fatigue and felt a disconnect between the additional tasks they were being asked to pick up and what they were seeing on a day-to-day basis in their classrooms.
"I think more than anything, we just tried to listen and understand that what they wanted to do was just slow down and focus on doing great work instead of trying to do too many things and not doing anything really well," Erion said. "So we made a commitment to no new initiatives."
During in-service week in August, that meant the staff spent most of their time collaborating.
"They're used to coming here in August and going through an in-service that's almost solely fixated on curriculum and test scores and budget and class loads," longtime assistant principal and athletic director Tim Burke said. "But we gave them time to just enjoy each other and create something fun. They took it and ran with it."
With her focus on putting staff in the best position to succeed, Erion in turned asked staff to collectively commit to doing the same for students and make sure they feel supported. To convey this to students, the staff signed their names to a large proclamation posted in the main hallway that they'll "Do Whatever it Takes" this school year.
"Going through last year and some of the struggles with budget deficits and people leaving and just a lot of upheaval, we knew that we had to kind of touch the restart button and focus on making this a positive place for kids and staff to be," Erion said.
Burke praised Erion for taking a similar approach with the administrative team, which now includes activities director Mark Brown as a vice principal, in terms of giving each team member autonomy to take the lead in their various areas of expertise.
"There's no ego there," Burke said. "We're all in a room and anybody can say and offer what they want. The goal is the same for all of us. Let's put it out there and when we leave we're all on the same page. It's been good."
Erion is a firm believer that once a "culture of care" that extends to staff and students is established, the other half of the job, the "culture of instruction," will naturally follow.
"We're in the human business first and the instruction business second," Erion said. "We're going to create this culture where people enjoy coming to work, enjoy coming to school."