Supt. Tom Yahraes gets high marks on his first ‘report card’

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School Board has given Supt. Tom Yahraes high marks in his first performance evaluation.

Calling it a “report card” of his own, the board issued a press release reporting the results of the evaluation following a closed executive session held Monday night, May 8. The board previously met in an executive session to evaluate the superintendent on April 24.

The board reviewed Yahraes, who became superintendent on July 1, 2016, based on the four priority areas he has enunciated as his goals: academics, thriving citizens, districtwide facilities improvement and organizational wellness and effectiveness, according to the press release. Board members were unanimous in positive comments regarding the superintendent’s performance.

The board also reviewed districtwide actions and evidence of improvement or gains in Yahraes’ priority areas. Among them were adding instructional days for students and families for the 2017-18 school year, the pursuit of funding for facility improvements, implementing school performance plans and shared and empowered leadership and voice in teacher and administrative teams.

The board noted its collective appreciation of the superintendent’s management style, work ethic, open door policy, outstanding skills working with people and his ability to communicate with the community, the release said.

“Supt. Yahraes’ goals have been ambitious and continue to be ambitious, and Yahraes’ goals are in direct alignment with the board’s desire to continuously improve for our students, staff and community,” said Chairman Mike Reynolds.

As an individual, Reynolds praised Yahraes’ performance, elaborating on his style, work ethic and interpersonal skills.

“He’s always seemed like he’s on the go and energetic,” Reynolds said. He doesn’t see everything Yahraes does day to day, “but whenever I do talk to him, it seems he’s got a lot on his mind.”

Conversations have revolved around three or four projects all year long, Reynolds said.

“He’s always talking about what’s best for kids,” and helping them become “thriving citizens.”

During interviews last year, Yahraes “was very outgoing,” Reynolds said. Since then he was “energetic, outspoken – just go, go, go, just impressive.”

The evaluation did not include numerical ratings and was somewhat informal, Reynolds said, noting that the board does not yet have data demonstrating the effects of Yahraes’ efforts as superintendent.

“I hope that what he’s talking about doing proves itself out in the end,” Reynolds said.

In October, Yahraes told the board that the number of students meeting state standards in testing had been decreasing for about the past three years.

He launched into a variety of efforts last fall to boost student achievement. To that end, the board approved a plan to return the district to a five-day school week next year. Yahraes created an academic leadership team to begin replicating what’s working in different classrooms that have tested well and school performance plans to help students become thriving citizens, finding success in academics and in other areas where they have talents.

With these kinds of efforts, Reynolds said he believes the district is on the right track.

“I’d say my leadership here is not a singular experience,” Yahraes said. “It’s shared with the community. The community’s absolutely actively involved with the school system, and it cares deeply about the children. I’ve seen the teachers and support staff and they care passionately about the learning programs and the kids.”

The district and board have managed resources wisely given the funding they’ve had available to build the best programs and learning they can muster, Yahraes said.

“I’m very fortunate to work with a board that has the vision and courage to lead,” Yahraes said. “During the course of this year, we’ve taken on some big-ticket items. Inserting 25 instructional days for our kids (the five-day week) is a big deal.”

That’s 25 more days of programming, Yahraes said. It’s 25 more days children are with positive role models, learning opportunities and purpose.

The board backed and endorsed the plan, he said.

The district staff have turned over every rock to get the most out of district facilities at a minimal direct cost to district residents, he said. That includes pursuit of seismic improvement grants, a matching grant to the proposed bond measure and E-rate funds, provided by the federal government for telecommunications and Internet improvements.

“We are involved in actions to address, to improve the academic shortcomings that we’ve seen over the last three years,” Yahraes said. “It will take us a couple of years to get back to where I believe Sweet Home was at. It’s not going to be instantaneous.”

He expects to see some improvement next year with the increased number of instructional days, Yahraes said, and staff will continue to work on replicating localized successes throughout the district through improved communications among administration, staff and students, through its professional learning communities and the Academic Leadership Team.

The district already has some success helping build “thriving citizens,” recognizing their accomplishments outside of academics, in athletics, in character and in service, he said. “We want every single kid to (reach) their potential. They’re our future.

“It’s my motto that every day you have to improve yourself. Every day is a chance to improve. You can’t rest on an accomplishment. Until we have 100 percent of our kids showing growth, the job’s not done.”