Michelle Jensen always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but after her first year in public education, she decided she wanted to be a principal.
"It's always been in my blood," she said.
Jensen, who most recently came to the West Linn-Wilsonville School District from the Hillsboro School District as the principal of Brookwood Elementary, was hired as Boones Ferry Primary's new principal just weeks before the start of the 2019-20 school year.
"The people that I have interacted with here have been fantastic. They're really deeply committed to the school and to this community," Jensen said. "The community piece is the piece I have been most looking forward to."
Jensen, who hails from Idaho, said one reason she decided to pursue a career in education was the influential coaches and teachers she had while growing up.
"When I think about who I am, a lot about who I am is because of teachers and educators in the past," she said. "I love kids, and I always have, and I want to influence kids in a positive way."
Jensen's childhood wasn't always easy.
Jensen said she grew up in a home where there were "seasons of hardship," and she really wants to make a difference for kids who have experienced similar situations.
"My entry into education was through the lens of counseling, but I knew that it was not going to be a forever spot for me," she said. "I have too many leadership desires. I wanted to make an impact on a broader scale."
In fifth grade, Jensen remembers having a teacher who she felt truly cared and loved his job. He provided hands-on and project-based learning. His teaching partner, who she also liked, later became the principal of the school. When Jensen was in high school, she became a teacher's assistant in one of her elementary school classrooms.
"I do remember a time in high school looking into his (the principal's) office and thinking 'I could like that job.' It was just a random thought at that point in time, but it was kind of a seed that was planted," Jensen said, adding that in that moment, she realized she'd never seen a school counselor and had never seen a woman in the principal's office.
"In my studies for college and career work, I think it's really important that we help kids see things in a different way than they may see them now or to just really know who they are as a human being and what their interests are and to help them understand jobs might not exist today that will be the job you want to do when you're an adult."
Jensen received a bachelor's degree in liberal studies with minors in music and psychology from Eastern Oregon University in 2006. During her undergraduate program she did a yearlong practicum in an elementary school and decided during that time she wanted to receive her master's degree in education, which she accomplished at Washington State University.
Jensen worked in the Hermiston School District for 10 years as an elementary school counselor and as the coordinator of strategic initiatives, where she ran an online school — a program within the Hermiston School District — and led college and career opportunities for young students. For fifth graders, Jensen implemented a program that took students on college visits after learning a unit on attending college. Also in this role, she led college and career family nights for K-8 students.
"Schools will do things like wearing college gear and whatever, but this just takes it to a deeper level, like teaching kids how to pay for college, how to choose colleges based on degree programs, and teaching them about choosing between rural and urban (schools)," Jensen said.
Her work also included increasing AP offerings and supporting career and technical education programs in the school district.
During Jensen's time in Hermiston, she completed her doctorate in counseling and received her administrative license.
As part of her dissertation, Jensen researched how to expose fifth graders to college, which was in line with the work she did in Hermiston.
"If we can teach kids about the college culture and what it takes to go to college, and expose them to a college campus, we can increase their belief that they could really do that (and) they could see themselves there," Jensen said.
Jensen then became the principal of Brookwood for three years prior to entering the WL-WV School District.
Jensen moved to the Portland metro area a few years ago to be closer to family and for opportunities in the educational field. Jensen's husband, Jason, who also works in the WL-WV School District, started as a teacher at Inza R. Wood Middle School four years ago and then moved to Meridian Creek Middle School when it opened. He is now the graphic design teacher at Wilsonville High School.
"We're really excited to be able to work in the same community," Jensen said.
Jensen has three children — a college freshman, and a senior and a freshman at West Linn High School. In her free time, she plays the acoustic guitar, sings, enjoys spending time with family, and traveling to the mountains, the coast or to Idaho and Utah to visit extended family.
"One more piece of who I am (is that) I have a passion for higher education," she said.
For the past 10 years, Jensen has been an adjunct professor and has most recently taught at George Fox University in the graduate school counseling program, where she will teach again this school year.
But more than anything, Jensen is looking forward to hitting the ground running at Boones Ferry and forming relationships with the school community.
"The first thing I think we are going to really focus on is building some teams. There've been a lot of shifts in who's teaching what, so every grade-level team has some change," she said. "So with having a new principal, we're going to build some relational trust this year and really focus on inclusionary practices and social-emotional learning. We're excited."
Evaluation by committee
In order to provide transparency and give a broader audience a voice in the hiring process of primary principals, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District has three committees, each consisting of teachers, school staff, administrators and parents, though one group does not include parents.
The committees are selected based on the specific needs and population of the school. For example, the district will ask parents to be involved who are active in the school community, or if there is a large population of Spanish speakers at a particular school, the district will seek out a parent who fits that need.
"We do our best to create a big committee that has representatives from all the different groups that the principal will serve," said David Pryor, assistant superintendent of primary schools.
The candidate meets with each panel, each one with a different focus.
One group asks the candidate traditional interview questions, including questions about their experience, leadership skills and strengths, while the other groups provide performance tasks where the candidate will watch a video on a teacher giving a lesson and offer feedback and will role-play leading a staff meeting on professional learning.
The three groups will then come together and discuss the candidate's strengths and what they would like to learn more about.
The candidate will be invited back for a second interview with the administrative team.
Though the process is similar at the secondary level, in the high schools there is one large committee instead of three smaller panels.
Wilsonville resident and parent Shawn O'Neil — who was on the hiring committee for Boones Ferry Primary's new principal Michelle Jensen — made a Facebook post Aug. 12 sharing his thoughts on the process.
O'Neil stated: "I and one other parent participated on the hiring advisory committee in evaluating the final candidates for Boones Ferry Primary's new principal. Teachers, staff, and school district administrators were also on the committee. Everyone actively participated and provided helpful input. I thought the process was transparent, thorough, and fair. As a parent, I thought the process was also educational for me in how the District makes these types of important decisions."
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