Welcome to SH: Veterans decide new high school staffers should get the true royal tour

Audrey Caro Gomez

The group of new Sweet Home High School teachers at Lewis Creek Park last week was easy to spot: They were sitting in a circle, criss-cross applesauce, in the shade of a tree.

As they dined on a picnic lunch, veteran high school teacher Chris Hiaasen gave them a preview of what to expect in the coming school year.

The outing was part of an effort of the Sweet Home Improvement Team to welcome the 12 new staff members to the high school. The team consists of about 20 people and is comprised of teachers, classified staff, and administrators from Sweet Home High School.

“Kristen Adams and Chris Hiaasen are driving this thing,” said Pat Davis, who teaches social studies and coaches at the high school.

The goal is to make things easier for new arrivals, show them around the school and around town, Davis said – to make them feel welcome.

“It seemed like a good idea to give more support at the beginning,” said Hiaasen, who also teaches social studies.

When she started teaching at the high school 10 years ago, she walked into an empty classroom. There was not even a scrap of paper, she said.

This year, there were four classrooms like that in the building, but the team caught that before the first day of school.

While some topics are building-specific, like where to get supplies, others are location-specific.

For example, it’s difficult to get a substitute teacher to come to Sweet Home at the last minute.

“If you don’t put in for a sub until 7:45 a.m., it’s going to be a problem,” Hiaasen said.

Of course, the location also has benefits.

“I love Sweet Home,” Hiaasen said. “It’s a great community with a lot to offer.”

The organizers rented a couple of kayaks and paddle boards to enjoy out on the lake after lunch.

It’s a way to establish a connection before life gets busy, Hiaasen said.

The new staff members seemed to appreciate the effort, whether they were first-time teachers or just moving from another district.

“I think it’s great,” said Liz Wilks, who comes to Sweet Home after teaching language arts at Echo in eastern Oregon. “I feel welcome.”

Knowing the lay of the community and school, she said she feels less anxious starting at a new school.

This is choir teacher Duncan Tuomi’s first teaching job. He’s from Portland and spent four years at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Tuomi said he wanted to work in Sweet Home because he enjoys the feel of a small towns.

As for the improvement team’s welcome, he said it was fantastic.

“Wherever I go from here, I’ll be underwhelmed,” Tuomi said.

He plans to work on his master’s degree in the future.

The teaching openings offered a unique opportunity for Heidi Thorstad and Michelle Snyder from Milton-Freewater. The married couple was looking for a district that had openings for both a Spanish teacher, for Thorstad, and a science teacher, for Snyder.

They got the jobs and, with some help from friends, found a house nearby.

“Within a couple of days this felt like home,” Thorstad said. “If summer has to end, this is the place to be.”