Gervais School District Community: The Coalition of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) just announced that Phoenix-Talent SD’s Brent Barry was named Oregon Superintendent of the Year. This award was aptly deserved, especially given Mr. Barry’s leadership during the Fall 2020 wildfires that destroyed major parts of his community. As we go into this school year, I think it is deeply important for you to also recognize the work that YOUR superintendent, Mrs. Dandy Stevens, has done for Gervais. The following text was from her nomination for the same award, and I think it is critically important to recognize she has done all of this in just two years with us, the majority of which took place during the most exceptional and difficult of climates and conditions (namely wildfires, ice storms, and COVID-19).
Leadership for Learning: The following are six of many examples that highlight her exceptional work in this capacity.(1) Mrs. Stevens is a champion for CTE as a chief architect in bringing the vision of the Willamette Career Academy (WCA) to fruition. WCA, the first of its kind the in the region, offers innovative programs to prepare students for high-wage, high-demand careers. She has been a key thought-leader in the program’s development, from establishing mission and vision to determining what CTE options will be available to hiring WCA administration. Her complex knowledge of CTE, both from programmatic and conceptual levels, has aided her desire to support students not just from Gervais but from districts throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley to pursue relevant CTE skillsets in ways previously inaccessible at this scale. (2) Upon arriving to Gervais, she recognized the power in providing relevant, tactile learning experiences for students. As such, she helped secure over $50,000 in grant funding to transition Gervais Elementary into a STE(A)M-focused school. This change included the creation of a cutting-edge MakerSpace, mobile engineering and art carts to service classroom learning, and the building of a comprehensive school garden to promote agricultural learning, a dominant characteristic of the Gervais community. (3) Recognizing the need to support needs in a variety of capacities, she reprioritized funding streams to augment staffing positions throughout the district. By leading the district in the process to begin Medicaid Administrative Claiming, she was able to hire a full-time district nurse, which the district had been lacking for many years prior. Beyond traditional roles, the new district nurse will help build a health occupation program for interested students. She has added two new full-time counseling positions to the district and led all counselors through a transformation to have a K-12 aligned comprehensive counseling program and the adoption of a new SEL curriculum for the district. Recognizing the district was not meeting mandated physical education minutes, she leveraged ODE’s PEEK-8 grant to bring in an additional full-time P.E. teacher to serve students K-8. Finally, exercising forward-thinking and visionary leadership, and recognizing that instruction and curriculum design had become highly compartmentalized throughout the district, she created and filled a TOSA position that will focus on Teaching and Learning. This position will lead efforts to implement PLC best-practices, spearhead curriculum adoption efforts, and have a fundamental impact on learning for all students. (4) Recognizing a lack of equitable access to elective courses at the middle and high school levels, she worked closely with building administrators to making short and long-term adjustments to master schedules. Resulting from her work are more students being able to maximize access to both core and elective core offerings. (5) To ensure uninterrupted learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, she led the district technology office to distribute over 850 Chromebooks and 150 wireless data hotpots to homes throughout the district. This represents over 90% of Gervais students having district-supplied devices at home, without which no other learning device may be available. She also worked with the local internet service provider to route new internet services, free of charge, in qualifying homes. For Gervais, which is considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, having internet access and learning devices in nearly every home provided students with a true opportunity to continue learning, either completely remote, in hybrid format, or when students returned to on-site learning and still needed learning access and opportunities outside of school hours. Finally, (6) knowing there were many opportunities for unfinished learning from the previous school year, she led the planning for the most comprehensive Summer School program in over a decade. From Preschool-aged students through 12th-grade, including inclusive programs for migrant students, Newcomer English Language Learners, and high-needs Special Education students, the program was available to every school district student. Credit-recovery options were highly tailored for high school students and Kindergarten through 8th-grade students participated in a STE(A)M-focused program that included not just core content instruction, but access to enrichment learning options like robotics, coding, photography, art, MakerSpace design, science, agriculture, forensics, fiber arts, American Sign Language, physical education, and more. Student engagement and attendance proved to be tremendous during this summer school program and it will serve as a model for future summers to come.
Communication: During the 2020-2021 school year, Mrs. Stevens led a diverse committee of administrators, licensed staff, classified staff, students, and community members to help evaluate and update the school district strategic plan. She also led a similarly diverse long-term facilities evaluation committee, which helped apprise what the school district should look like in the near and long-term futures to meet the emerging educational opportunity needs of our students. She formed an Equity Team, who meets regularly to discuss how all members of district and school community can have broader conversations about equity, inclusion and diversity. Leading all three of these committees in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated her desire and ability to work with representatives throughout the community to develop a shared vision and mission for the district, even when the climate of the times offered a reasonable opportunity to simply maintain the status quo until conditions normalized. With her administrative team, she began work with a marketing and branding company, who using feedback from key stakeholders, is creating a new district logo and communications strategy to better represent our district and community. She has worked hand-in-glove with our school board, and as positions became open, she worked tirelessly to promote representation and inclusion among board members. With great success, the Gervais School board is truly representative of our small, rural community that is approximately 70% Hispanic/Latino and has a vibrant Russian Old Believers community. And with the school board, she undertook a year-long systematic review of every district policy document and revised them, as needed.
Professionalism: Mrs. Stevens is constantly improving her own administrative knowledge, while at the same time providing professional development opportunities throughout the district. Beyond leading her administrative team through a book study of Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead,” she modeled the content learned for her team to witness. Not satisfied with the value of this work staying at the administrative levels, she brought in Moe Carrick, an internationally recognized speaker, author, and leadership coach, to extend Brown’s work to all staff members within the district. She is an active member of superintendent working groups and is an innovative leader among her colleagues within the Willamette ESD. Finally, to propel her focus for increased inclusion, equity, and awareness throughout the district and the community, she worked with Dr. Bryan Marks, the founding Director and Principal Trainer with the National Training Institute on Race & Equity to address implicit bias, among other issues, with the entire Gervais School District staff. She led her administration team through a multi-day “Teaching While White” workshop and coupled that with the team attending the 2020 Oregon Equity Conference. Aside from providing expected PD opportunities, such as providing comprehensive digital teaching professional development, so all district teaching staff were highly prepared for CDL during pandemic school closure times, as well as creating teacher-leadership opportunities from within, she is proactive and creative to address the most imperative of staff needs, even if those needs challenge our comfortable spaces.
Community Involvement: Mrs. Stevens should be recognized for her active participation in local community activities. She was perhaps the first, if not the only superintendent in the state that proactively implemented the use of electronic contact tracers to aide in the identification of close-contact interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saved the district significant sums of money and the unnecessary quarantining of students and staff. When the decision to use these devices was met with community push-back, she took the time to meet with individuals and groups in virtual and in-person formats, she listened to concerns, and made appropriate compromises where possible. She worked with the local public health authorities to bring multiple mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics to Gervais, where more than 500 residents were able to receive their vaccination shots when they otherwise may have been unable to do so. To support community food needs during the pandemic, she worked with our district director of food services to be one of the first districts in the entire State of Oregon to provide daily meals to homes using district transportation resources. To-date, over 578,000 meals have been delivered to families throughout our community and by adopting this initiative, she was able to keep district transportation drivers employed when other districts were having to reduce their transportation staff members. During the wildfire of Fall 2020, she provided refuge for evacuated farm animals using our FFA barn. During the Ice Storm 2021, she worked with food services to provide 977 breakfast and lunches to children and offered hot meals to children and adults whose homes were without power. She led the expansion of our pre-school facilities and outdoor play area, which allowed us to better provide early learning services as the largest daycare and pre-school provider in the community. She works very closely with Gervais business owners, the Gervais Mayor, and she worked closely with the Gervais Police Department to hire a K-12 School Resource Officer, which satisfied the direct and explicit request made by the Gervais School District families and community members. Finally, she works closely with surrounding community leaders, such as the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce and Oregon House of Representative Teresa Alonso Leon, District 22, to ensure that the voices and needs of the Gervais Community are heard at the highest levels possible. She is, without question, a true representative of her district community.
Other Supporting Evidence: (1) As an example of good stewardship and as a CTE learning opportunity for students, Mrs. Stevens had a comprehensive solar panel array installed on the middle school building roof. (2) With great reverence for both the classified and licensed unions and the bargaining process, she has revised salary schedules for all employees of the school district, increasing pay and benefits and putting Gervais at or above other neighboring districts of our ilk in terms of competitive employment. (3) She worked closely with the district business manager and a pension obligation bond opportunity, which resulted in an exceptionally positive short and long-term financial gain for her employees.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and celebrating the many recent accomplishments of Gervais School District, many of which were not captured in the nomination letter above. We are looking forward to a great school year before us, for students and for staff. If you ever have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a school office.
On behalf of the entire GSD Administrative Team,
Dr. Creighton Helms
Director of Special Education, Gervais School District
Principal, Gervais Elementary School