District gets jump on new staff hiring

Sean C. Morgan

Looking for “rock stars” who may stick around, the Sweet Home School District has modified the way it recruits teachers.

The Sweet Home School Board Monday approved the hiring of 12 new teachers for the 2017-18 school year, much earlier than usual. The district recruited most of them at a job fair held in early April in Portland.

“The uptick in how many folks were recommended is a result of a going to the Portland job fair and getting aggressive about recruitment and hiring,” said Supt. Tom Yahraes. “We really tried to orient people the best we could to the Sweet Home experience.”

Hiring earlier gave Sweet Home more options as well, Yahraes said. The applicant pool shrinks quickly during the spring and summer.

Nearly all of the district’s administrators, all but two assistant principals and the superintendent, attended the job fair, aggressively promoting Sweet Home and trying to recruit high quality teachers who would be attracted to the community and remain in the district long term.

Yahraes said that Hawthorne Principal Terry Augustadt spearheaded the effort.

“We wanted to go and see if we could swing the bat against Portland and the big school districts,” Augustadt said. The administrators went and pitched the district, talking about the great things going on in the Sweet Home community to young teachers looking for work.

They gave away T-shirts and other swag, Yahraes said. The Sweet Home booth was festooned with colorful banners and brochures.

“The booth looked great,” Yahraes said. Other administrators told him that Sweet Home administrators had done an amazing job.

The administrators talked about what the community has to offer, selling Sweet Home as a family-oriented small town and community, Augustadt said, the kind of place where new teachers can quickly become ingrained in the community, a place where educators are like brothers and sisters.

They had to sell themselves as the people these new teachers would be working with, Augustadt said, but they also didn’t sugar coat it.

“We were aggressive,” he said. “We wanted to try to pick teachers out of those long lines (to the bigger districts).”

Sweet Home ended up with some “rock stars” it probably would not have seen otherwise, Augustadt said.

Five years ago, when times were harder, he had 95 applications for one job, Augustadt said. Last year, he had maybe nine applications.

This project was exponential, he said. The team talked to a couple of hundred prospective teachers and conducted 37 interviews on the spot. The process included two more interviews for each teacher who was offered a job.

Augustadt hired three of his five new teachers from this pool, he said. Another was a friend of a district teacher and from the Portland area, looking for a place south of Salem. The other new teacher was an in-district transfer.

These teachers were interested in Sweet Home, he said. He battled and lost to Foster Principal Luke Augsburger over one teacher, he noted.

As outstanding a teacher as she is, that individual could easily have gone to work for a larger district pulling down $8,000 more per year, Augustadt said. She didn’t need to go somewhere like Sweet Home to gain experience, but she fell in love with Sweet Home.

Another teacher had eight interviews and two job offers prior to interviewing with Sweet Home, Augustadt said. He had two more after that.

“We sold him on us,” Augustadt said. He said, “I want to go where I can make a difference for kids.”

“It wasn’t a hard sell against the Portland Public,” Augustadt said. Portland might pay more, but there, a teacher is just a number. “We actually know your name.”

“It was the most positive thing I’ve ever been involved with in our district,” said Julie Emmert, executive assistant to the superintendent. She had joined the administrators at the job fair.

Emmert said the district has about six positions still open.

Hired Monday evening were Sara Doherty Foster, third and fourth grade; Brittanie Sorensen, Holley, second grade; Stephani Catt, Hawthorne; Emmi Collier, Foster, PE; Josh O’Corman, Hawthorne, PE; Kristy Davis, Foster and Holley, counselor; Sarah Ashland, high school, language arts; Donna DiPietro, junior high, special education; Linda Luu, Foster, second grade; Julie Jefferson, Oak Heights, elementary; Hannah Galka, Hawthorne, kindergarten; and Stephanie Deneen-Rodrigues, Oak Heights kindergarten.

Present and approving the new teachers were Mike E. Adams, Chanz Keeney, Jenny Daniels, Jason Redick, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Angela Clegg, Carol Babcock and Debra Brown. Jason Van Eck was absent.

In other business, the board:

– Approved a letter of support for a proposed six-classification system for high school athletic leagues.

An Oregon Student Activities Association committee has favored a five-classification system, but following an outpouring of opposition, the majority of the committee now supports a six-classification plan.

A large majority of 2A, 4A and 5A athletic directors voted in favor of six classifications, and 3A athletic directors more narrowly supported six classifications. The majority of 6A officials prefer to switch to a five-classification system.

A draft 5A plan would have placed Sweet Home in a league with Central, Corvallis, Crescent Valley, Lebanon, South Albany and Newport.

A draft plan from the committee’s April 24 meeting places Sweet Home in the Oregon West Conference with Cascade, Junction City, Marist, Newport, Philomath and Stayton.

In the current Sky-Em League, Sweet Home and Junction City would remain together, while Cottage Grove and Sisters would move to different 4A leagues and Elmira and Sutherlin would switch to 3A.

At this point, the committee is focusing on enrollment cutoff points for each classification, league alignments and school placement.

It meets next on May 22.

– Accepted resignations from Paislee Schreiter, high school, special education; Heidi Lewis, district DHS coordinator; Daniel Shelton, high school, advanced math; and Willa Martin, Hawthorne, fifth grade.

– Approved a transfer for Pete Saveskie to Hawthorne from Foster.

– Hired high school teacher Chris Hiaasen as the dean of students as part of a reorganization of high school administration for 2017-18. She will handle minor behavior referrals, work with students and manage positive behavior enhancements, Yahraes said.

– Approved the transfer of John Mithen from Sweet Home Junior High to Oak Heights, where he will be a .75 full-time equivalent PE teacher.

– Adopted new science textbooks that more closely match current science standards for $135,000. The funds will come from the district’s technology and textbook fund.

– Appointed Benjamin Emmert to the Liberty position on the district’s Budget Committee. He is running a write-in campaign for the same seat on the School Board, which will be vacated by Daniels June 30. No candidate had filed for the position in the May 16 election.

– Declared a Kohler and Campbell piano at Foster School surplus. It is valued at $150.