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A new leader at the historic high school on S.E. Powell Boulevard, replacing the one who resigned...

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Leo Lawyer, the new Principal at Cleveland High School, tells THE BEE of some specific goals he has in mind for the historic school. Cleveland High School, on the corner of S.E. Powell Boulevard and 26th Avenue, has a new Principal. Leo Lawyer replaces Ayesha Freeman. She was Principal for two years, before resigning in April, as reported in THE BEE, shortly after a group of Cleveland faculty issued a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

Mr. Lawyer is leaving Rockaway Beach in Tillamook County, where he was Athletic Director for the Neah-Kah-Nie Middle School for two years – and then Principal for seven more. Prior to that, he taught English for eight years at Sam Barlow High School in Gresham. During his time at Sam Barlow he also developed a writing curriculum.

Lawyer said he thinks the Neah-Kah-Nie experience provided him with a firm foundation for being Principal at Cleveland. The coastal school was small – with just 217 students – but he believes his seven years there as Principal gave him the necessary broad experience: He oversaw budgeting, helped with counseling, and served as head of safety and security. He was instructional leader of the building, as well as athletic director.

"Neah-Kah-Nie athletics overall were not very good when I took over, but we developed youth programs and hired qualified teachers who coached in both the middle and high school building." He was also the DJ at all the school dances – a duty which he loved.

"Not much is new to me, coming here," he remarked, referring to the system fundamentals of his new job. "The scale is much larger – Cleveland has 1,600 students – but the general functions of the school are ones I am very familiar with."

When asked by THE BEE what he would like to accomplish at Cleveland High, he unabashedly said he would like Cleveland to become the best high school in Oregon. "High academics; and success in athletics and activities at the state level."

However, Lawyer does not seem arrogant about his role at CHS. "I was very fortunate to have strong mentors in my professional life. I'm not afraid to ask questions and never afraid of feedback. You can't improve without feedback."

Improving some athletics at CHS, and supporting strong ones, are important to Lawyer. "We have a strong girls' soccer team; football numbers are growing; and cross country is doing well." He recognizes that growing numbers of athletes create a need for more gym and field space. "It presents challenges. We have to be mindful of planning for future needs. We appreciate community support – past and future."

He hopes to use the "soft skills" – non-academic affective skills – that he has developed in his years of experience to relate to parents, and to foster conflict resolution. Lawyer believes that building trust with students, teachers, and parents is the key to good administration.

Lawyer graduated from Portland State University with a degree in English and an advanced degree in school administration. He and his wife Patricia have a twelve year-old daughter and ten year-old twin boys.

For the first two years of his professional life he worked with incarcerated youth. "It took a lot of work to get their trust. It was a training ground." He confided, "The other day a student here described me as his 'fun uncle'. To me, that means providing guidance and mentorship. You put young people in the position to be successful, and you celebrate when they do well, while helping them get up when they fail."

As for helping CHS to flourish, Lawyer says "I'm not afraid of failure. You try some things; some will work, some won't. Be resilient and try again. The key to bouncing back from failure is to have a resilient system that supports students' emotions and efforts."

Concerning capital improvements for Cleveland such as earthquake retrofitting, the new Principal said he is listening to his staff, and will start a planning and input process this fall. His background in construction should help with conceptualization.

As for what he enjoys most about being a Principal? He said, making connections with students, and caring about their success. Lawyer explained, "CHS has a diversity of students that adds to a complex and positive school environment. We need to address how we support students of all different backgrounds."


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