For the past eight years, Sheree Little has been the first person students see when they walk through the front doors at West Linn High School. For those eight years, and for 14 years at Wilsonville High School before that, she's made sure that every single person that has entered the school's walls feels special.
Whether it's a student, staff member, parent or community member, Little has been there to greet each passerby with a warm "How are you today, hon? What can I do for you?" But, all things must come to an end, and come June 23, after 22 years with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and 36 years in education, Little will retire. It's a milestone that is well-deserved for one of the school district's most loyal and hardworking employees, but her absence will undoubtedly leave a gaping hole in the West Linn High School family.
Just ask anybody who's had any affiliation with the school in recent years, and they'll know the name Sheree Little. You can guarantee they'll have nothing but positive things to say.
"She is a loyal and dedicated servant to our kids, staff and community at West Linn High School. We're going to miss her," Principal Kevin Mills says.
Little, 61, was born and raised in Southern California. A self-proclaimed die-hard Trojan, she graduated from the University of Southern California in 1978, starting her career in law enforcement before transitioning to a position as an interpreter for the deaf. She got her start in education a short while later when the principal of her kids' school called and asked if she could come in and sign for a patron.
She says the fit in education was right from the get-go, and she never looked back, eventually following her brother up to Oregon where she purchased a farm in Canby. She worked in the Molalla School District for a time, before joining the West Linn-Wilsonville School District in 1995. Considered one of the Wilsonville High "pilgrims," Little helped build the school from the ground up.
During much of that time she served as union president for classified and certified employees, while maintaining her normal duties as secretary extraordinaire — providing a voice for all of her coworkers. She says she's always loved being part of a high-functioning team, calling West Linn-Wilsonville the highest-functioning team there is in Oregon.
"I loved the new tone and positivity that was in West Linn and Wilsonville from the time I got here," Little says. "This is a district that looks up and says 'We're going to teach our kids to do things better and wiser, and make them lifelong learners.' I really buy into that."
Little has gotten to know thousands of high school students over 22 years, and she says it's always been her mission to impact each student in some way. Behind her desk is a stack of laminated pieces of paper, inscribed with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote she lives her life by: "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
For 22 years, Little has given those famous words, a colored paperclip, and her own encouragement to nearly every student that has passed by her desk. It's a tradition that students have come to know and appreciate.
"It's a token that says I see you and I believe in you. Sometimes, that's all you need to hear as a person," she says. "Before I die, I want to have been a one- or two-generation success. That's very egotistical, but to me it means that there's somebody that sits and tells their grandkid about 'that wild and crazy long-haired gal that worked at my school, and she was there for me.' Then I'm a multi-generational success, and that's all I've ever wanted to do."
Little has certainly made a difference during her tenure at Wilsonville and West Linn, and she has become synonymous with both high schools during that time. Because while many would have treated the position as a typical 9-5 job, Little has gone above and beyond time and time again. Not a thing takes place within WLHS's walls without Little hearing about it, and she's the first person many of the school's staff and students go to for help or advice. That's always been the case, and Little says she wouldn't have it any other way.
"My job is to have been like a concierge at a five-star hotel for each and every family in this district, whether their kids go here or not." Little says. "I've also looked at it as if I was (students') fairy godmother, and my job was to make sure that they were getting exactly what they needed to be able to do what they needed to do within our walls — to succeed, to achieve, to learn — and then to have the confidence to move on. I've always worried about the kid who thinks the highlight of his life is his high school years. If we do our job right, the highlight of his life is his life. That's where my focus is."
Little plans to travel with her husband, Ray, in retirement, but says she'll continue to volunteer across the district. With 14 kids between her and her husband, and an even larger number of grandchildren, she'll be plenty busy. She has always been a person that lives life to the fullest. She plans to do the same even in retirement.
"I am still having a blast, and when I wake up emotional and think about it, I could go another four years," she says. "But Ray and I travel very well together. I'm married to the love of my life, and we've got places to go and people to see.
"My dad, years ago, said you better find something that defines you and cling on to it. If you don't, you're going to have other people trying to define you. That's something that has stuck with me since I was 15 and something I've tried my best to pass on to others. I know how to be content, but what I don't know how to be is complacent, and we will continue to live life to its fullest just like we did in our working lives."