Superintendent’s Mid-Year Reflection and Announcement

Posted by Dr. Jeff Harding on 1/7/2022

Dear Riverdale Community,

As we approach the midpoint of this school year, I believe it’s important to take stock, to look back at the past four months, to acknowledge our successes and to foreshadow the challenges around the corner.  

The midpoint of the year is an excellent time to acknowledge the Riverdale staff who work with our students each day during these challenging times. And it’s a time to acknowledge our educational partners who supported our efforts: the Riverdale Foundation, our PTCs, the Riverdale Teachers Association, MESD, Jory Mental Health, OSBA and other organizations. 

I also want to take this time to look forward, to scan the horizon for the opportunities that await us in the months to come. 

We started this school year with a feeling of excitement, with the hope that this year would bring a sense of normalcy to our schools after the unprecedented times that have gripped our nation. The term “unprecedented times” is often overused but these are, without question, unprecedented. But with our strong partners and our engaged community, I believe we’ve given our students an education that’s second to none since we opened our doors on August 30.

Beginning in September, the Board and I made several significant changes to our board meetings. We adopted a board policy that brings student voice to our leadership structure. And I’m pleased to report that the first student representative to the Riverdale School Board is scheduled to be sworn in next week. We now start each meeting with a “Mission Moment” where we publicly acknowledge students, staff or community members who stepped up to make a difference for our schools. Who can forget our first Mission Moment when we acknowledged the fifth grade teachers who shifted to Distance Learning during the first week of school? In addition, we changed the format of our meetings to encourage more targeted public comment, and we committed to posting our board packets at least four days prior to each meeting. We also committed to working with OSBA to update all our board policies to better conform to state and federal law.  

Perhaps our most pressing challenge to start the year was to fill key leadership positions. Working with HR Specialist Tammie Wing and recruiters Robyn Bean & Hank Harris, we recruited and hired an experienced high school principal, business manager and athletic director. Soon after, we hired an experienced Spanish teacher, filling all key vacancies. Bart Hawkins, Nicole Bassen, Michael Lady and Bianca Sapp jumped into their new positions this fall, with immediate impact on our schools. 

With so many new employees, and after so much staff turnover, we began working to improve our organizational structures. Seven of our ten Leadership Team members are new to their positions, so we created a document that defines the roles and responsibilities for each district leader. We wrote new job descriptions, reorganized the district office to ensure that confidential conversations remain confidential, and we’re working on an annual board calendar to help us meet key deadlines. 

No retrospective for 2021 would be complete without mention of the pandemic. On just the second day of school, we became aware of our first positive COVID case. By the third day of school, two more cases were discovered and a 5th grade class was forced to transition to CDL but soon returned to in-person instruction. Working closely with OHSU, we began offering weekly screening tests for all students, with the vast majority of our families opting to participate. Our HR department tracked and confirmed that 100% of our staff are fully vaccinated. Our COVID protocols appear to be effective, as we address the current wave of community COVID transmission. 

As we enter our third year living with COVID, our students and staff show obvious evidence of stress. So this fall, we expanded our collaboration with Jory Mental Health to provide more comprehensive services to our students. Counselors from Jory are now available five days per week to see students at the high school. Plans are underway to implement a suicide prevention program for our older students. Jory counselors also provide critical support to our administrative staff as we design end-of-year activities that are responsive to the needs of our community. 

Working together this fall, we reconnected with our core mission as a highly academic, college preparatory district. We began publishing a newsletter feature called “College Corner” written by Robert Lovvorn. In “College Corner,” parents and students get information and advice on PSAT testing, university entrance requirements and key deadlines for early action and early decision. For our Talented and Gifted students, we selected three Riverdale teachers to reinvigorate our TAG program to better serve this special student population.  

To bridge the gap between our two schools, our principals worked together to host panel discussions between high school students and 8th graders. And our Communications Coordinator Elizabeth Gibson worked with Riverdale parent Lucas Spaulding to produce a Riverdale High School video to encourage students to enroll at the high school. 

Several other key initiatives were completed this fall that deserve recognition. We worked collaboratively with Adam McLain and our teachers association to extend our lapsed collective bargaining agreement and to approve a cost of living increase for our staff. Working with leaders from the Riverdale Foundation, we implemented a new grant proposal process in response to donor feedback. Under the leadership of our Director of Equity and Inclusion Abby Rotwein, we expanded our equity training for students and staff. Our business department worked with our auditor to ensure that our district finances are sound. And our district office staff took steps to increase our enrollment, with seven new or returning students joining our community just this week. 

We also took steps to establish a respectful and compassionate tone throughout our community. In October, I published an article, “The Power of Kindness” in our district newsletter. Overwhelming support from our parents and staff sent a clear message that kindness and compassion are key ingredients in a healthy Riverdale culture. 

So, as we look forward to the second half of the school year, I anticipate an equally busy agenda. As I outlined at our last board meeting, the Superintendent’s Action Plan will guide our path forward. The Action Plan includes a wide range of initiatives for this year but these initiatives aren’t mine alone. Rather, I’m calling upon our entire Leadership Team to collaborate as we drive our initiatives forward. Many of the initiatives are already underway. Several have already been completed. But our continuous improvement practices demand that we identify and address further areas for improvement so our students receive the greatest education we can provide with the resources available.

I’m honored to serve as your interim superintendent this year to help move the district forward in a time of stress and uncertainty. I look forward to the coming months and the work ahead. That said, my wife and I are beginning to look forward to new adventures, resuming our travels that were cut short by the pandemic. Therefore, I won’t be seeking an extension to my Riverdale employment contract. 

I intend to leave the District in excellent shape, ready for the next district leader to take over as superintendent, committed to years of service working collaboratively with all members of the board. I’m confident that the District will find a very qualified superintendent who can lead our schools for years to come.

Time and time again, I’m reminded that Riverdale is a very special place. Your students are exceptionally lucky to be part of this community, as am I. 

With gratitude,

 

Jeff Harding, Ed.D.