Superintendent hands over keys, heads to Reedsport

Sean C. Morgan

Retiring Sweet Home schools Superintendent Larry Horton dropped his key off to his longtime secretary, Lynn Stauffer, as he left the School District 55 Central Office for the last time as superintendent Thursday afternoon on his way to Reedsport, where he begins his new job this week.

Horton, 61, will work part time as superintendent in Reedsport next school year.

“I have really mixed feelings right now,” Horton said as he closed one door and prepared to open a new one. “This has been my life for nine years. I’m excited, but definitely sad at the same time.”

Horton said he will miss the staff; Stauffer, his administrative assistant; the students; the teachers; and the parents, he said. “I’m glad I’m not leaving the community.”

Horton plans to stay involved, he said. He will continue with the Rotary Club, and he’ll also be involved in the Rotary Club in Reedsport. He also plans to continue working on the proposed aquatics district.

“It’s definitely a need in the community I think I can help with,” Horton said.

His wife, Millie Horton, will continue working in the district, where she is food services supervisor, and they’ll still attend football and other activities, such as drama and music, both of which are high-quality programs they enjoy, he said.

He is proud of two key areas, he said. “I’m very pleased to have helped with the facility development. All of our schools are in good physical shape.”

He loves the new high school, which was rebuilt and modernized in 2001 using a bond approved by voters in 2000. He didn’t work on the bond himself, but he oversaw the bond projects.

The condition of the school facilities says a lot about the maintenance staff and the School Board, Horton said.

He also is proud of the district’s academic direction, he said. The GEAR UP and ASPIRE programs are developing a new culture for Sweet Home students and their parents, helping them understand that college is within their reach, which is a change for many families.

The high school offers the College Now program, Horton said. Students can get two years of college credit out of the way through 24 classes offered in the dual enrollment program.

“I hope more and more students and parents take advantage of that,” Horton said.

“I’m proud of all of our staff, the direction they’re taking the district academically,” Horton said. It’s not where they want it to be, but “I know we’re working toward the academics that will prepare kids for the future.”

It used to be a diploma was good enough for a good job, Horton said. Now, it often takes an associate’s degree or other certification to find a family-wage job.

Horton said he is proud of his wife and the job she does with food service. It’s one of the best in the state.

He also is proud of the district’s financial status. Although times are tight, the district hasn’t had to eliminate any programs. Auto shop has been reduced, but it’s not eliminated.

Horton will be succeeded by Don Schrader, who begins work this week.

“First year, I would recommend he listen, listen, listen,” Horton said. “That’s what I’m going to be doing. Hear what the community has to say and what the needs are.”

Listen to the School Board, administrators, staff and figure out what the needs are, Horton said. Then set up good goals. After that, he suggests taking baby steps.

“Lasting change occurs by taking baby steps,” Horton said. “He’s a veteran. It’s not like he’s a rookie. I think he’ll continue to move us forward.”

In the meantime, Horton thinks he is probably walking into a worse financial situation than Sweet Home on the coast.

Reedsport has had to cut programs and staff, he said. Part of that is why the superintendent is a part-time position. He’ll work a .6 full-time equivalent job, three days a week.

“Right now, the commitment is for a year,” Horton said. “If we like each other, maybe more than a year.”

He plans to suggest that Reedsport look at going to a principal-superintendent arrangement, Horton said. “It’ll probably save them another teaching position.”

Reedsport has 300 students in kindergarten to sixth grade and a district-sponsored charter school for junior high and high school. That gives the district flexibility with electives. Art can be offered by artists brought in for a few weeks at a time, for example.

“I applaud them for their creativity,” Horton said.

As he departs, Horton said, “I just want the community to know how much I’ve appreciated the nine years I’ve been here.”

He has met quality people who help keep the community strong, he said. He said he also appreciates the newspapers.

“I appreciate you always go for what the facts are,” Horton said. “When Alex (Paul) was here, it was the same way, and I believe the Swansons have continued on with that. Jennifer Moody (Albany Democrat-Herald) does too. I appreciate it. She does a good job, and we’ve had some touchy issues. You always handle them fairly.”