Final thoughts from the desk of GSD Superintendent Matt Henry
Dear Gervais Community,
With an interesting variety of distractions, fun and noise along the way, I proudly end my five-year stint as the superintendent of the Gervais School District.
I first want to thank my wife of 35-plus years for all of her support during this time. I also want to share my genuine appreciation for the many individuals I have worked with (all roles) who consistently demonstrated exceptional character and professionalism.
In my last official written communication, I wanted to share this condensed list of accomplishments in the district over the last five years. All achievements were in coordination with the school board and key individuals in the system.
These items required significant leadership that I hope have positioned the district well for its next chapter. I do hope the young people we are professionally charged to educate (my career inspiration) are the ones far into the future whom will continue to benefit from these outcomes.
In all educational roles today in Oregon, there are many, many challenges, and no matter my role or particular task to resolve, I've often been inspired by John Wooden quotes. On the topic of the need for change he said, "We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation."
With less than 20% of the district's eligible voters submitting ballots in the recent May 21 election, my departure, one board member leaving and another past board member returning, the short and long-term future of the Gervais School District is once again, front and center. I had personally and professionally hoped to be a part of a much-needed facilities upgrade with a successful bond measure passage in year three of my tenure, but it was not in the cards.
This key district goal will need more than one in five eligible voters to participate for a chance at success. What will voters want to see in the district? How will the district have the courageous conversations needed to build a unified consensus? As UCLA basketball coach John Wooden suggested, change comes from either inspiration or desperation; on this bond passage objective both conditions simultaneously exist in the district. Of the seven most recent attempted bond measure campaigns from years 1997-2012, the closest margin (1998) of an approval/win was defeated by 12.9%. The patrons will need to be persuaded, first to vote, and then to vote in the affirmative by new and different ideas and methods in the future.
In my first four to five weeks on the job in July of 2014, multiple employees would pull me aside and tell me that the previous year of consolidation of the district to one site had been the "Hell Year!"
Concurrently, the GSD made national news with the controversial district resolution to establish a process by which condoms would be distributed to students, grades 6-12 (prior to my hiring), and was frequently featured in the Portland/Salem, local news, along with the additional hot topic, adoption of the Oregon Health Curriculum standards, as required by law.
It was then on to a public ethics complaint filed against the board my second year. As a first-time superintendent, my first two years were heavily occupied with the fallout of these challenges. The negative shelf-life lingered, regardless of my efforts to seek a unified district leadership consensus for students and their outcomes.
With this plethora of challenging factors in play during these times, I often thought of my father, a Korean War veteran who passed in 2017, as he loved to quote Benjamin Franklin to all six of his children whenever we would complain to him about our various issues and life challenges, "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain — and most fools do."
I do wish the very best for my successor, and all connected to the GSD.
Accomplishments despite the challenges
Facilities Completion District Properties Management
— Rectified facilities planning and communication impasses with the GSD and Woodburn Fire Department, Oregon Fire Marshall, Marion County.
— Finishing the MS/Activities Building, secured a facility grant.
— Erecting the 8th grade modular after five-mile delivery from Brooks.
— Completion of a new track.
— Major water infrastructure project.
— Varsity soccer facility.
— GMS Locker-room extension.
— Raising of electronic sign.
— First significant facelift/upgrade of HS in years.
— Adding AC units to especially hot classrooms at GHS & GES.
— Fixed sharp incline ramp in GES to lower gym.
— Finished new ADA ramp and lift at front of GES.
— Changed pick-up drop off of parent pick up areas, very dangerous.
— At board direction currently close to selling North Howell, sold Brooks and Eldridge properties.
— Initiated several leases, smaller lease with Fiber Fab.
— Finished the first and current District Strategic Plan, based on inherited survey data my first six months, quantifiable yearly in dollars spent in four quadrants, posted throughout district and is followed.
— Guided several Board approved school curriculum adoptions.
— Conducted a comprehensive 2nd year community survey. (140-150 approximately)
— Held multiple community forums over the years, four-day week idea, health curriculum, updating of district's accomplishments toward bond interest, etc., survey and produced a district newsletter for the first time in years, multiple forums for outreach and meetings in 2nd year to build capacity for bond passage in future.
— Started superintendent Advisory Committee with 10-15 key community partners, business members, rotating board members and district staff, and coffee with the superintendent.
All Staff Customer Service
— Trainings year two-Salem's Cascade Employment Service, toward ever improving customer service to patrons, students, fellow employees.
No Financial Issues—n Besides the endless struggle to increase enrollment. Professional audits confirmed excellent financial records, I supported my business manager's professional productivity and outcomes, budget wise, despite consistent criticisms.
Wireless/Technology & Safety
— Expanded district-wide wireless system led by Technology Director's professional expertise; greatly improved district website.
— Convinced board to invest district-wide in Chromebooks, expanded bandwidth.
— Supported multiple software applications, resources, training, administrator requests for PD for teacher/building if goal was improving student academic performance in every building.
— Overhauled antiquated Crisis Plan, bringing CrisisGo as a system of response (used by 37 other States).
— Installation of 100+ district wide cameras, with local law enforcement real-time digital access, new walkie-talkies.
— District wide visible, safety signage, security gates.
— Handled serious and real cyber threats against the school, executing Crisis Plans, consistent feedback to all key players, parents, community.
— Inherited no district counselors -now one per building.
— Tried to bring music back to HS/MS.
— Pushed for AP & Art elective to HS/MS.
— Solidified SBA location and Daycare/P-K.
2016-17 Carmen West Award
— English Language Leaners populations, one of three districts of the 197 in state to win award, provided the critical support of the acting principal at the time, despite constant, system wide resistance.
Other Key Contributions
— Responsible for negotiations for five respective classified/licensed contracts, (with business manager and board members), recently settled a two-year contract with classified.
— Licensed negotiations have started again, last time licensed went to mediation with much personal push back directed at my position and the district team, yet given the PERS challenges alone the packages reached was a very fair three-year contract. As a former licensed teacher and ADM rep on negotiation teams, I understand and respected both sides.
— Made needed personnel decisions, very "Heavy Lifting", equaling major push back from whole system, yet created/allowed for new administrative configurations and opportunities with three new administrators in new positions, one new from outside of the district making a significant impact with new perspectives, ideas, energy.
— Multiple personnel decisions successfully in background avoiding negative publicity.
— Led in general solidifying and consistency of staff evaluations (licensed and classified), and all department managers.
— Diffused two Federal Office of Civil Rights complaints (Seattle, ODE) in my tenure with personal intervention.
— Solidified Gervais Sports League agreement, other key community partners with our school system, Data Vision, etc.
— Developed a first-ever GSD Board/Superintendent Agreement guiding potential governance of the district.
— Good relationships with the Gervais City Hall and business manager, GPD, Woodburn Kiwanis, and neighboring superintendents.
— Brought Frontier Charter Academy, online charter school to district improving average daily membership (ADM) with over 300-plus students to date (FAC). This has certainly helped the budgetary bottom-line, new proposed contract/cap 850-1000, extensive help and support of this new charter from board and business manager.
— Led creation of a highly demanded Daycare/Pre-K system, both at full capacity, with waiting lists=Early Childhood Development/CTE strand-ahead of State direction.
— One of Oregon's better HS graduation rates for five years at GHS despite major personnel changes.
— Led turnaround of inherited ODE identified Focus Schools GES, supported principal, removed all staff from a 2nd "Focus" SBA my first five months on the job.
— Guided development (measure 98) of ECA/CTE Early Childhood Development strands, Legislative Success Committee toured and praised our program in a visit last year.
— Fully supported CTE for GHS for Construction, Health Occupations, Horticulture, Live Animal Barn partnership with AG/CTE strands and the Gervais Alumni FFA.
— Reconfigured community garden for the GSD student opportunities.