High school administrators shuffle seats with A.D.’s departure

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School Dean of Students Chris Hiaasen will be Sweet Home High School’s new vice principal next year following the retirement of Athletic Director Steve Brown.

Mark Looney will move to the athletic director position and handle student management and discipline, while Hiaasen will focus on curriculum and instruction.

As dean of students, a position Hiaasen filled as a teacher on special assignment, she is handling student management and discipline this year, while Looney is handling various other tasks.

Kristin Adams, a post-secondary adviser, originally a grant-funded position created in 2008 and focused on helping students move on to college, will become the school’s Measure 98-driven “success coordinator,” focused on improving college and career and technical education programs.

Adams went to work in the district in 2001 in a grant-funded alcohol and drug prevention position at the Junior High. She also coordinated the district’s new PBIS program. When grant funds ran out, she worked part time coordinating PBIS for a year before going to work as the career center secretary at SHHS.

“I’m a believer in strengths-based leadership, and I see the right people in the right seats,” said district Supt. Tom Yahraes. “I see the people with strengths in the right skill sets in the right places.

“I’m excited about continuously improving, driving forward in the coming years focusing on creating stronger career and technical programs and experiences for our kids.”

Principal Ralph Brown said the Sweet Home School District had qualified applicants for the vice principal position, and it opened the position to outside applicants as well.

“We had a good strong applicant pool,” Brown said. “We came down to the interview process, and Chris was the top applicant” for “a lot of reasons.”

Hiaasen has been in the district since 2007, Brown said. She previously had worked in Mill City, Oakridge and Lowell. She also ran the private Orchard Academy in Lowell for two years. During that time, she was a coach in volleyball, softball and basketball at different levels.

Hiaason has taught business, English, PE, social studies and leadership in Sweet Home, Brown said. She was activities director, and she has been an assistant softball coach at the high school.

She has gained “a lot of experience over the years,” Brown said. Before she got into teaching, she served in the U.S. Army. “She had quite a varied career and lifepath.”

Hiaasen was born and raised in the Sweet Home area, he said. She attended Chemeketa and Linn-Benton community colleges and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in education at Willamette University. Her administration certification is from Concordia University in Chicago.

Following the strengths-based leadership model, Brown said he was focused on putting the right people in the right positions.

Looney has had a lot of experience with student management, Brown said. He came to work here three years ago in that position. This year, the school had him working in human resources and state assessments, which were something new for him.

Including athletic director duties, which includes looking at grades and behavior issues, is a natural fit for student management, Brown said. It’s something he’s seen working well in other districts, and it’s something the school has done before.

He can do the student management duties “in his sleep,” Yahraes said, and he also “has great strengths in organization and large operations,” with a background in threat assessment and safety protocols. He also has been done a lot of work associated with being an athletic director.

“Chris has done so many different things,” Brown said. He will work with her on the master schedule, curriculum, student engagement and staff supervision to improve student achievement.

“She’s been here,” Brown said. “She’s respected by the staff. She’s a calming source. She stays pretty cool and level.”

She has student management experience now as well, he said. “At one point, I told the boss (Yahraes) I may have miss-stepped my team.”

Brown said that Yahraes replied, “But she needed to know that part of the job.”

“She has a strong background in curriculum, instruction and programming,” Yahraes said. “She has a keen interest in this area. Her attention to detail, her relationship to the staff and students and families I see as all assets.”

Among her duties, Hiaasen will look at adding new career and technical education classes, such as technology, forestry and drafting, Brown said. She’ll analyze where students may be stuck in classes but don’t want to be. She’ll track how many students are signed up in different courses and staff allocations for different areas.

Hiaasen will work closely with the district’s curriculum director and with Adams in her new Measure 98 position.

Oregon voters approved Measure 98 in 2016, requiring the state to fund dropout prevention and college and career readiness programs in high schools.

Other funds also are available to help improve career and technical education, Brown said, and Adams will work with the high school team to pursue those grants.

“The major piece of it is increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropouts,” Brown said. CTE programs seem to help on that front: Among students who took more than one CTE class, 92 percent graduated in the Class of 2017. That’s nearly as good as the 95-percent graduation rate for students identified as talented and gifted.

Adams is working with business teacher Ammon Mills to develop a new program, introduction to engineering and entrepreneurship, and is also making efforts to improve offerings in building and welding skills, and the development of a new forestry program that will expand what has previously been offered through the Forestry Club, Brown said. She’ll help with budgeting the funds that feed the programs.

She will work on improving attendance rates, Brown said. In 2016-17, the district had just 60.9 percent of its students qualifying as “regular attenders.” Nearly 40 percent demonstrated chronic absenteeism by attending less than 90 percent of the time – or missing one day per two-week period.

The idea is that more students will graduate and be ready to move on to college, pursue a certificate in community college or go straight to work, Brown said.

“We want rigorous course options in college prep, and we need strong safety nets for students who are struggling in high school with attendance or readiness or help in their courses so they can be successful in getting a high school diploma,” Yahraes said. “Kristin Adams brings a proven track record working with our local and regional businesses.”

She has nurtured opportunities with them and with community colleges, Yahraes said, and he’s excited about her being part of the leadership team.

“She’s expanding what she’s been doing for years,” Yahraes said. “She’s leading in that area. She has the backing of Measure 98, the expectations and the funding. We have more resources available right now to execute what Sweet Home has been wanting to execute.

“The bottom line is we want in the years to come to have more than just a general high school diploma.”

“I’m really excited,” Adams said. “The state has finally given us some money, put its money where its mouth is. I’m just excited about the opportunities that are going to be available to our kids next year.”

Adams said the school has some specific things it can do to help decrease dropout rates and improve graduation rates.

Hiaasen noted the success that the High School has had with its tardy sweeps, a research-based solution to an ongoing problem. The sweeps have dramatically turned around tardiness, and attendance has improved as well.

“I’m really excited about it,” Hiaasen said. “I enjoy the data and looking for solutions. I think it will be interesting and it gives us an opportunity to make some lasting changes.”