Geri Federico is 'blessed' to be an educator in Woodburn
Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology Principal Geri Federico has seen a world of changes in her years as a teacher and administrator in Woodburn.
"My career in this district has spanned double shifting, year-round education, the building of a new high school, the fire at Woodburn High School, the implementation of a dual language program and the small schools model," Federico said.
"Talk about a district that has transformed."
Federico announced in December she would retire this year, after 43 years of working in education.
When Federico started teaching in 1975 at Woodburn High the school only had about 400 students, she said. Now the high school has grown close to 1,600 students, and made achievements unparalleled by other schools in the state, raising graduation rates and college preparation for Latino students and low income students, student populations which on average underperform statewide compared to white and East Asian middle and upper class students.
"It's a very different community than it was in '75," Federico said. "Woodburn has become more diverse, more accepting. We're richer from the experience and talents and skills that so many have brought to this community."
WAAST recently celebrated being named the No. 1 high school in Oregon and 24th nationally by U.S. News and World Report. The school's major achievement has been closing the achievement gap for its Latino students, many of whom face significant challenges during their educational careers, like surviving on low incomes and learning English as a second language.
"We are an example for so many schools in the state. They often call the high school and ask, 'What did you guys do?' But there is no silver bullet, it's years of hard work," Federico said. "The transformation here has been solely based on the needs of the community, and the students and families here. I think that's why I feel so blessed to have worked in this district."
Teachers and administrators now face challenges they never had 40 years ago, but her concern for the students has kept her coming back every day, with passion and commitment.
"Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to do well, and everyone deserves a quality education," Federico said.
Federico said the small school model has been so successful because she is able to build relationships with her students, and be available to meet their needs.
"As a small high school principal you are the first and last stop for parents, for students, for staff and for the community," she said.
Federico credits her concern for students and education to growing up with a family of educators. Her father and grandparents worked in education, and her sister is currently an administrator at Silverton High School.
"The conversations around the table, what you think about, what you talk about, are really enmeshed with the notion of education, how important education is for each and every person, and how priceless it is," Federico said.
Federico, who also has four brothers, is from the Pacific Northwest, but wasn't part of the Woodburn community until she started teaching at Woodburn High School as a language arts teacher in 1975.
Federico started her teaching career that same year that Title IX was passed, a civil rights law that prohibits public education programs from discriminating based on sex, and she became the first girls head basketball coach at Woodburn High School.
She worked at the high school from '75 to '79, before leaving to follow other pursuits. She returned to teaching, first at Mount Angel for a year and then as a special education teacher at Cascade School District for four years.
During her time at Cascade, Federico earned her master's degree in special education, and when a position opened as special services director for Woodburn School District, she applied. She worked as special services director for 14 years before moving to Woodburn High School for a temporary administrative position in 2000.
When the small schools model was implemented in 2006, Federico became principal of WAAST.
She said she feels blessed for the opportunity to have worked in the Woodburn School District, and feels grateful for the opportunity it provided her to learn and grow.
"My hope is that, in turn, I made a positive difference in the lives that I have touched," Federico said.
Federico said she is looking forward to retirement, but she can't see herself stopping her work on behalf of kids and education. She wants to find volunteer work in the community, possibly working with homeless youth.
"I still see myself as doing work, whether it's paid or unpaid," she said. "I can't imagine a life that doesn't involve a 60- to 80-hour work week."
Federico said she will miss coming to work with students more than anything. Her office walls are covered with a wallpapering of hundreds of student photos, arranged by graduating year. Students call it "The Wall."
"People are asking 'Are you really gonna take down the wall?'" she said. "Every picture here is a memory and a story."