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Head of the Class

Incoming Superintendent Shay Mikalson looks to the future


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After seven-year Superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools Ron Wilkinson announced his plans to retire this summer, the district launched a national search for his replacement. In the end, though, they found someone close to home. Shay Mikalson, currently serving as the assistant superintendent, was selected as the district's top pick last week.

Though Mikalson worked side-by-side with Wilkinson, he's of a different generation and seems eager to blaze his own path. The 39-year-old educator and administrator previously served as superintendent of Redmond schools, and has held nearly every academic position at the secondary and district levels.

But his depth of experience is balanced by an awareness of social media and technology that is reflected not only in his professional accomplishments or consulting gigs, but simply in the way he presents himself. Case in point: Mikalson has a website and he blogs and tweets regularly.

We chatted with Mikalson to learn more about his goals and priorities for the district.

Source Weekly: A major focus of your work has been on closing gaps in student achievement. What challenges does the district face in this regard, and how will you set about addressing them as superintendent?

Shay Mikalson: As both a father and an educator, I am driven by a passion to personalize learning and a focus on delivering future-ready education today for each and every one of our students. In this effort, we are dedicated to ensuring that families have the opportunity to select the best school and learning environment for each student. Any program students and families select will teach the foundational and 21st century skills they'll need, like communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, to succeed in the colleges or careers of their choice. And finally, we are committed to defining and measuring what matters most so that the Bend-La Pine Schools can keep its promise to graduate every student a thriving citizen.

We have made great strides in graduation rates and closing the achievement gap for our students in poverty during the past five years, but we want to do better. We want every student to reach his or her full potential. The challenge in this work today, is that this effort demands that we must redefine the way we resource, support, teach, and take responsibility for our students to ensure they all have the skills and practical wisdom they need to not only participate in the global economy, but to lead it. We are building upon the successes of our past while continually focusing on our future because we know that our century-old system was built for a different time, a time in which most students were being prepared for an industrial economy instead of the knowledge-based one we find today. Our economy and our students have changed. It is only logical that our approach to education must change, as well.

SW: You've overseen both career readiness and technology rollouts for the district. What new ideas are on your radar to build on the career-readiness and tech savvy of Bend-La Pine students and why is this focus important?

SM: As we at Bend-La Pine Schools continue to build on our past success, we must create the conditions for innovation to take our necessary next steps. This will take action on many fronts such as our continued support of career and technical education options like our new hospitality and nursing programs, enhancing our work with local farmers/ranchers to make locally sourced foods available to our students, ensuring all students have access to arts, music, athletics and co-curricular activities in addition to world-class core curriculum, and continuing to find new and innovative ways to work with our partners in law enforcement, fire, and mental health to make sure all students have a safe school environment that is conducive to learning. For our ultimate success forward will not be measured on average but instead by the diversity of talent we can nourish at all levels, in both breadth and depth, reaching out to capture and expand upon the talent of all students no matter their previous trajectory of achievement.

SW: On your website, part of your tagline is "promote justice." What role does education play in advancing justice and what does that look like in Bend-La Pine Schools?

SM: Public education, and those of us dedicating our lives to its pursuit, has the responsibility to advocate for the needs of all students by acting to ensure that all students can learn as well as promoting the democratic values of preparing young people for equal and responsible citizenship, productive adulthood, and the ability to become all that they can become. For at our core, Bend-La Pine Schools is dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap that continues to divide our nation's children along the lines of college readiness, race, class, language, and disability in order to ensure all of our students graduate capable of creating a future by design, not default.

Learn more about Mikalson at shaymikalson.com.

About The Author

Erin Rook

Erin is the Source Weekly's Associate Editor. Before moving to Bend in 2013, Erin worked as a writer and editor for publications in Portland including PQ Monthly and Just Out. He has also written for the Willamette Week, El Hispanic News, Travel Portland, OUT City, Boston magazine and the Taunton Daily Gazette...


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