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Woodburn School District Superintendent Chuck Ransom officially retires July 31, leaving with positive reflections on the trajectory of the district this century

COURTESY OF WOODBURN SCHOOL DISTRICT - Chuck Ransom has spent 33 years as an educator, including 19 with the Woodburn School District; the past 7 as the WSD superintendent. He will retire on July 31.Woodburn School District Superintendent will soon be spending more time around his rustic vineyard and less time with schools.

After 33 years working in education at many levels – and seeing some remarkable results – Chuck Ransom will officially don the retiree name tag on July 31. It's a role he's prepared to play, one he welcomes, and he even sheds a little levity while explaining why he welcomes it.

"There are two things I know: I will die one day, and one day I will not be the superintendent. My goal is to have a little separation between those two," Ransom jested.

Ransom, 62, stands to keep busy during that "separation," in part at home on his Whistling Ridge Vineyards in rural Yamhill County, which he and his wife, Diane, and extended family have owned and operated since 1988. He will also be available, within the parameters allowed, to consult or work with WDS during the transition period.

"I can watch from the sidelines; if anyone wants my opinion, I'll give it to them," he said.

The vineyard element to his life is actually a residue from his first, pre-educator career days when he worked in the hospitality industry. Ransom didn't tread down the education path until his late 20s when he went back to school at Portland State University.

He taught and coached soccer for 14 years at Central Catholic prior to heading to Woodburn in 2000. The vineyard, located on a lush rural hillside between Newberg and Gaston, actually helped guide him out of Portland, into the valley and ultimately to WSD.

In addition to serving as WSD superintendent these past 7 years, Ransom's education roles have included implementing Spanish for natives and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs, curriculum director, world language department, assistant principal, principal, teacher and coach.

Language as a key skill

Much of Ransom's upbringing was done outside the US, as his father worked in the Foreign Service. He attended schools in Brazil, and Mexico.

Following his father's overseas stint, Ransom finished prepping at Lake Oswego High School, Class of 1975. But it was those earlier years that would resonate through much of his career as an educator.

"I really enjoy working with this population in school," he reflected recently. "When I grew up it was Portuguese and Spanish in the schools and English at home. It's just the opposite with these kids.

"You don't think about it as developing a skill. Kids do things because they have to…This forced me to learn (the languages)."

That early learning seasoned the educator with perspective as he tended the tasks of developing language programs.

WSD Board member Linda Johnston points to Ransom's influence in buttressing the numbers of Woodburn High School students receiving Oregon Seal of Bi-literacy. WSD sources note that the seal is attained by completing a bilingual interview, portfolio, and meeting stringent state and district requirements.

The seal was first offered in the district in 2015, and 7 students were recognized. That jumped the 42 the following year, and 64 in 2017. A year ago the Class of 2018 saw 112 students receive the Seal of Biliteracy; Class of 2019 raised the bar again.

"This year we have over 204 Woodburn students who have that (Seal)," Johnston said.

Challenges

Throughout the past two decades, there have been some challenges. Most notably on the administrative and innovative end in the early 2000s when WSD test scores were frightfully subpar to meet the standards established through No Child Left Behind.

Ransom recalled that only 25-percent of the students were meeting the math and language arts requirements. That put the district in a dicey position, fueling thoughts about how to improve performance while facing potential loss of key funding if that's not accomplished.

"Before No Child Left Behind, high school was judged on equity of opportunity. NCLB judged on equity of outcome," Ransom recalled. "They were looking for results."

As a curriculum coordinator, Ransom went to work with cohort Laurie Cooper in 2002 to develop a new approach. Research and data backed the small-school model, and transition to that model began in 2006.

"We only had about 6 or 7 years to get all the kids hitting that (NCLB) benchmark," Ransom said.

He remembers that first year, and what he described as an "implementation dip," or the difficulties that inevitably arise when transitioning to a different approach. But it was crucial to stick to the road map, make adjustments where necessary, and allow time for the strategic planning to formulate the vision.

This past school year marks the 13th with that small-school model; Woodburn High School's 90-percent graduation rate is a statewide role model.

"I certainly don't want to take all the credit, but I'm proud of the legacy that has developed over the years," Ransom said. "We've gone from being a poor-performing district to having one of the best high schools around."

Strategic planning

A pivotal tool in elevating a school district's performance is strategy.

"(Former Superintendent) Jack Reeves introduced the strategic planning to the district, and it's done in 5 year intervals," Ransom said, referencing the superintendent who served when he first arrived. "And Walt (Blomberg) kept it up."

David Bautista, the superintendent between Blomberg and Ransom, served during a 2.5-year window within a plan.

Ransom said strategic planning is vital to guiding a district to an envisioned standing, and it encompasses everything from curricula, to visioning to bond projects and funding. During his tenure as superintendent he's worked on two plans, the second of which is currently in its first year.

"When he was a curriculum director I worked directly with him had the opportunity to find out how knowledgeable he was," Johnston said. "He has a vision to go with that knowledge. He will see that maybe we can't do something this year, but look at the big picture and let's see what we can do in three or five or ten years."

Reeves, whose wife, Linda, is a current WSD Board member, agreed.

"He holds high expectations for all students and staff while continually upholding the strategic plans developed by staff and community as the road map for progress in student achievement, as well as community outreach and engagement in the district," Reeves said. "Chuck contributed to the success of the school district with his focus on developing systems that will succeed any one leader and benefit students for years to come."

Believe in yourself

As the pieces were coming together and the district was improving, there was constant tinkering to make things better. There was also a positive outlook and a pulse on attitude.

"You feel something is right; based on your experience and the research at your disposal – you feel like you are pulling that right lever," Ransom said.

"Student achievement is primarily dis-positional: you have to have students who believe they are capable of achieving, and you have to have staff who believe that students are capable of achieving.

"That sounds really simple, but it's what you need to succeed," he added.

That perspective is key at every level, every role.

"Chuck has been a leader who has empowered me, trusted me and has helped me grow so much in my past role and now in my (current) role," said Executive Secretary to the Superintendent & School Board Jenne Marquez. "I have been so grateful that as a secretary he has also allowed me to be involved in the schools and our community.  He has taught me that as educators, no matter our role, we all make an impact in a student's education.

"Chuck leaves Woodburn with the reminder of always believing that all students can be successful."

A copy of Ransom's review approved at the Tuesday, June 18 school board meeting and shared by Linda Reeves, points that out:

Of the many accomplishments, one that may be most important is the belief by staff, students and parents that all can achieve at a high level. That also leads to the empowerment of students and parents to advocate for themselves. They have learned what to expect in their children's education and that they can and should advocate for their children.

A role-model district

Johnston and Marquez both noted that other school districts have sought to take a page out of Woodburn's playbook.

"(Ransom) provided the state with first-hand knowledge and research," Johnston said, citing dual-language programs and helping under-served populations specifically. "He's had a guiding hand in several programs the state has adopted."

Marquez often heard it first hand in the office.

"When superintendents across the state would call and ask him how Woodburn had such high graduation rates, his short answer would be 'It starts with the adults in the system,'" she said. "We need to believe that all students can be successful."

His review touched on that as well:

Mr Ransom has been influential in the local community with organizations and families, at the state level with Oregon Department of Education, The State Board of Education and Committee on Student Success and nationally in promoting dual language programming and student achievement to insure equity in education for our students and high graduation rates.

Call it a career

Ransom recently said he enjoyed a quote by longtime Woodburn band leader Brian Gingerich, who also retired this year. The gist of it was, pull away while you are still viable; don't wear out your welcome.

The superintendent said stepping away is a weighty thought process.

"Timing is always tough for this kind of thing. I've been thinking about it for the last year, and I talked about it with the board," he said.

"The strategic planning for the next five years is done... I let the board know about it in the winter, but didn't want to make a premature announcement that could disrupt the elections. With a new board, it's a good time for them to coalesce (with new leadership)."

He said one of the main drawbacks is not seeing the bond projects entirely completed, but they are well underway.

One upshot, as told by those who work with him, he's going out with a stellar legacy and positive sentiments.

"There are a lot of people who work in this district who have a lot of respect for him, his vision and how he conveys that," Johnston said. "Parents, students, business leaders and organization members believe that our vision for our district is solid; they can achieve what they set out to do."

Linda Reeves itemized Ransom's legacy: "Dual-language program, small schools, bond measure passage, funding upgrades at every school and much more – he will be deeply missed."

Marquez agreed: "Chuck will be missed."

COURTESY OF WOODBURN SCHOOL DISTRICT - Chuck Ransom has spent 33 years as an educator, including 19 with the Woodburn School District; the past 7 as the WSD superintendent. He will retire on July 31.


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