Sweet Home feels comfortable to new SHJH vice-principal

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Derek Barnhurst says he’s the wanderer of his family.

Barnhurst, who is assuming the position of vice principal and athletic director at Sweet Home Junior High School, grew up in Junction City, where most of his family still live.

In a sense, he’s coming home – or pretty close to it.

“It’s been kind of funny, actually,” he said. “I came up here after I graduated (from high school) to play in the East-West basketball all-star game. The coach of the year that year was Ed Nieman here in Sweet Home, so we came up here and practiced.”

He said he played basketball with the nephew of Shirley Hansen, who works in the junior high cafeteria, and he knows someone who was a good friend of Marilyn Richards, who works in the school office.

Oh, and he knew Deidra Little, a science teacher at the junior high, after meeting her in a summer class he was taking.

“It’s funny, they know people that I knew,” he said. “It’s kind of a small world. It’s been really fun.”

Barnhurst played football, basketball, and competed in track and field at Junction City. He finished second in the state in discus as a senior and qualified for state in the shot as well. He also played on a number of basketball all-star teams.

After graduating from high school in 1990, he played basketball for two years at Lane Community College, where his team won the Northwest Athletic Conference championship in his second season.

After a short stop at Pacific University, where he planned to play basketball but “things didn’t work out that well,” he transferred to Montana State University in Bozeman, which is where his wife, Rachel, is originally from.

He earned a degree in fish and wildlife management from Montana State, but couldn’t find a job in that field, so he went back to school at Montana State and earned a teaching credential in science.

Rachel Barnhurst, also a teacher, had taught in Madras during Derek Barnhurst’s final year of school, and had begun a master’s program at Oregon State University. So Barnhurst took a teaching job at Central Linn High School for a year while his wife finished her master’s degree. After she finished, they moved back to Madras, where he was hired on at the junior high as a home economics teacher.

“The guy who taught biology was going to retire, so they hired me to get me in,” he said. “I taught there seven years. The only thing I haven’t really taught is social studies.”

He also coached freshman and junior varsity boys basketball at Madras, discovering when he arrived there that his old LCC coach, Evan Brown, was coaching there.

“It was really easy for me to join his coaching program,” he said, noting that Brown’s coaching abilities helped Madras get to the state playoffs 13 times in 15 years.

Barnhurst also coached girls golf for four years.

Two years ago he moved into administration, attending an OSU satellite program in Bend to earn a master’s degree and an administrator’s license.

“It seemed like I gradually moved into administration,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things that naturally pushed me toward leadership roles.”

He and Rachel are living in Sweet Home, where she is pregnant with their first child.

“She’s going to take some time off to stay at home,” he said.

Meanwhile, with school opening in a week, Barnhurst said he’s meeting people and getting to know some of the students who will be at the junior high school.

“I already see some around town I recognize,” he said.

He said he plans to take things slow at first.

“I think my role this year is to come in and just do my job, learn how the operation works,” Barnhurst said. “It’s really time to get into school and learn what’s going on, meet the kids.”

He said he already likes the feel of Sweet Home, noting that he likes hunting and fishing.

“It’s a lot different than what I’m used to,” he said of the school district. “In Madras, it was not unusual to lose 20 teachers a year. This year we’re replacing two (at SHJH).

“It feels good. I’m really, really happy to be here and get things going. I’ve always been a small-town guy.”