Superintendent reflects on three years in Sherwood
Heather Cordies office in the Sherwood School District Administration Building is dominated by a huge conference room table with 10 chairs around it (and room for more) with her small desk tucked along a wall.
When Cordie started the job of superintendent three years ago in July, she knew she wanted a large table as a setting for meetings because the building doesnt have a conference room, but cost was a factor.
In a modular, behind one of the schools, a district maintenance worker found the table in two pieces; it was scarred with coffee rings and other remnants of long-ago meetings but was refinished at a low cost into a beautiful, shiny table worthy of high-level meetings.
I love that the table has a history in our district – our maintenance staff, led by Ian McNeely, did an amazing job of refinishing it, Cordie said.
Before Cordie came to Sherwood, she was the assistant superintendent in the Redmond School District with the superintendent there serving as one of her mentors.
She was so good about giving me opportunities to lead, Cordie said. She knew my career goal was to someday be a superintendent and had me working on various community projects, leading various strategic initiatives and overseeing the principals, which was great preparation.
Then in January 2010, the superintendent announced she was retiring. Getting the right job is all about the right fit, and I had done my homework on Sherwood. For example, it was a statewide leader in the CLASS project, and work Redmond had just begun. I set my sights on Sherwood and didnt apply for the Redmond superintendents job.
(The CLASS project - Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success - is an innovative education initiative designed to empower teachers and raise student achievement.)
A short time later, Sherwood advertised for a new superintendent, and Cordie not only applied but got the job. Another factor was that her husband Tony is a firefighter with the Clackamas Fire District and had a three-hour commute to and from Redmond, whereas in Sherwood he now has a half-hour commute to his station.
The timing was right, the district was right, Cordie said. Even with all the challenges that all districts face – Sherwood included – it has been the most amazing opportunity. We love living here. Coming to the Sherwood School District has been a wonderful move for my family and for me professionally. It is everything I hoped for.
On the other hand, Cordie quickly realized that you are never fully prepared for the job of superintendent - at the end of the day, everything rests on your shoulders. she said.
But she has had a lot of support from the Sherwood School Board and the strong staff and administrative team.
One of the things that makes the superintendents job a little bit easier is having a strong, supportive Board of Directors who remain focused on the right things, she said. I am thankful to the board members – they trusted in me as rookie, and they have helped me become a better superintendent. We have recently lost three veteran members, but every time one leaves, a new one comes along with different perspectives and strengths which will ultimately help us all become better.
Funding issues loom over every school district in the state, and Sherwood is no exception.
The fiscal reality that Oregon faces is not a surprise, but it is different being part of a team dealing with those fiscal challenges, as opposed to being the leader of the team that deals with budget reductions and must ultimately be accountable for those decisions, Cordie said. Being the superintendent leading those challenging reduction processes, as opposed to an assistant superintendent, looks very different. It is a different level of accountability, worry and concern.
Another huge issue for school districts is safety, even more so since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy last December. In fact, the day before Cordie spoke to the Gazette on Aug. 15, Sherwood police found four bottle bombs in a Laurel Ridge Middle School parking lot. The Metro Disposal Unit was called, and it successfully exploded two of them, while the other two apparently had malfunctioned when the suspects tried to detonate them.
That is scary, Cordie said. Safety is another added worry and burden – to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep students safe. We have taken strong and decisive steps and formed an emergency preparedness response team comprised of administrators, who are working to proactively put systems in place for our district.
In addition to the 5,000 students in the Sherwood School District, there are 255 teachers and 226 classified staff, and employee issues come up that are challenging, Cordie said. Sometimes there are personnel issues that become very public. In any of those instances, it is our job to ensure that our policies and training opportunities are analyzed and revisited in order to help ensure our students safety and well-being.
A difficult issue that the district and Cordie have had to face recently is the arrest of Denise Keesee, a Sherwood High School math teacher who faces second-degree sex abuse charges involving two former students. She was placed on administrative leave last winter and resigned from teaching in May.
On the advice of our attorneys, the district does not comment on matters of personnel or pending litigation, Cordie said when asked about the former teacher. It is important for our community to know, however, that the district takes the allegations against Ms. Keesee very seriously; we acted swiftly upon learning of the allegations and we are, and will continue, to cooperate fully with the police investigation.
One of the districts accomplishments that Cordie is most proud of is its transition to a proficiency-based model of teaching and learning, even before House Bill 2220 passed.
HB2220, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2011, requires school districts to determine students progress toward achieving the academic content standards; show, at least annually, students and parents whether students progress meets or exceeds grade-level standards expectations; and assures that students academic grades reflect their academic proficiency.
Some of the districts other major accomplishments were the successful construction of the Bowmen House by Sherwood High School students and its subsequent sale, multiple state championships, putting more than 600 hand-held electronic devices into students hands last year, and receiving $382,000 in the form of a collaboration grant during the 2012-13 school year.
This was an opportunity to provide professional development to staff that they would otherwise have not received, and more than 172 of our teachers volunteered to participate, said Cordie.
She added, I have worked diligently, among our administrative team, to get the right people in the right assignments in an attempt to capitalize on individuals strengths. Strength-based leadership helps everyone to be more successful, and the administrative team is working hard to take the district to the next level.
Along with utilizing employees strengths, several staff members have won state awards.
Athletic director Randy Ramp was named Oregon Athletic Director of the Year by the Oregon Athletic Directors Association; Sherwood High School teacher Allison Meadows was named Outstanding New Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year by the Oregon Association of Career and Technical Education; and Hopkins Elementary teacher Marika Conrad was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council on Geography Education, which was one of only nine winners across the nation.
And another reason for the districts success is its relationship with the city of Sherwood, along with other community partners, according to Cordie.
This shows up in a number of ways, including intergovernmental agreements for the maintenance of the school grounds landscaping and the school resource officer, Cordie said. This doesnt happen everywhere. I value our city leaders who are willing to work together with us to make this the best community possible.
Cordie, who recently signed a new three-year contract with the district and earned her doctorate in educational leadership, added, Im so honored to be here and be part of this district and community – there are, no doubt, more great things to come and I am eager to be a part of them.