Two years ago, Jefferson County School District brought in an expert at turning around schools as principal of Warm Springs K-8 Academy, which needed improving. Now, Ken Parshall is in his third year with the school. In addition, he has two other roles: He’s superintendent of the school district and of the Jefferson County Education Service District.

And while education officials are paying a high price for such an expert to serve in those three roles — about $243,000 a year — they consider the money well spent.

It’s early in the school year, but Parshall has already made changes that will likely have far-reaching effects: He’s implemented a 90-minute late start at Jefferson County schools on Mondays so that teachers have that time each week for training and lesson planning.

Before implementing the late start this year, teachers either had to make time to coordinate with each other on lesson plans, or the planning fell by the wayside. Elementary school teachers had some morning planning time before the late-start Mondays before, but middle and high school teachers really had no time, Parshall said.

Parshall said he realizes the change is an adjustment for parents, but he thinks it’s a worthwhile one to give teachers more preparation and training time. Bus schedules were adjusted, time was added to the school days the rest of the week and community organizations also stepped up to provide safe places for kids to go if parents need to get to work, although Parshall said he realizes some of those programs cost money.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” Parshall said recently.

Parshall, who has worked in education for 31 years, including as principal at Crook County High School from 2000-03, was assistant superintendent of Salem-Keizer Schools before joining Warm Springs K-8 in fall 2015.

The K-8 academy he heads, which opened in fall 2014, has historically been low-achieving. Parshall has experience turning low-performing schools around. The year before Parshall arrived at McKay High School in the Salem-Keizer district, 50 percent of juniors met the state’s reading standards, while 48 percent met the math standards. Three years later, 85 percent met standards in reading and 84 percent met standards in math, according to Bulletin reports.

Jefferson County sought out someone like Parshall to take over Warm Springs K-8 when its principal was retiring, and Parshall took on the role in fall 2015. When superintendent Rick Molitor announced he’d be leaving the district June 30, Parshall decided to throw his hat in the ring. He felt he had something to contribute.

“The work I do in, whatever role I’m in, is always motivated by making a difference for students,” Parshall said.

Friday, school board vice chair Courtney Snead agreed.

“As a board member I would say Ken’s willingness to take on that role is a testament to that commitment to see through some of the changes,” Snead said, adding this is the first school year she hasn’t gotten a single call from a parent with a complaint or issue in the first few weeks of school.

Other board members said they hadn’t received any calls either, Snead said, which she thinks is a good indicator things are going well. And there are other indicators, too, Snead said.

The school board was excited to hire Parshall to lead the district because of his experience with schools that are struggling. The percentage of growth on state test scores at Warm Springs K-8 has increased greatly in Parshall’s time there. Each student’s scores are compared with the year before to show how much they have grown in proficiency, and those growth rates are averaged for the whole school. In the school’s first year, before Parshall arrived, the median percentile growth on the state test was 16 percent for kids at Warm Springs K-8. Last school year it was 49 percent.

“Ken’s nationally recognized as a professional who’s turned around schools,” Snead said. “He hasn’t had the chance yet to turn around a district. We have the opportunity to provide Ken with the opportunity to turn a district around.”

Some of the changes Parshall has made have been simple, but significant, Snead said.

“Ken has experience in working in much larger districts,” Snead said. “He can look at it from a systems perspective.”

One basic change, for example, was that on snow days some staff didn’t know when to come in. Parshall explained at his old school district, they posted a schedule online so staff could check in there. Now Jefferson County is putting that in place so that employees have a simple way of checking in on those days.

Parshall also wanted to create better connections within the district among elementary, middle and high schools and allow time for professional development and training for teachers. The late-start Mondays provide that.

Parshall also wanted to see better communication and ample opportunities for teachers and staff to provide feedback about what it’s like to work in their positions day to day and started two groups to achieve that.

While that expertise is coming at a price, Snead and other school board members consider it worth it.

“When you look at Ken’s experience, his national recognition as a turn-around guy, you’ve got to pay for that,” Snead said. “For us, it’s an investment.”

Parshall’s predecessor received a salary of about $142,000, plus a $14,400 expense stipend. Parshall’s salary is $169,000. He’s earning about a $57,000 stipend for being principal of the K-8 academy and another $17,000 for heading the education service district.

Parshall said while every day looks different, he generally aims to spend mornings at the K-8 academy and the rest of the day in Madras at the district office or in schools. At the most, next year would be his last serving as a superintendent and principal, he said.

Snead admitted she viewed the salary as high during negotiations of Parshall’s contract, but realized it was necessary, or at least deserved, adding Jefferson County is also unique, given its combination of diversity, performance and size.

Parshall’s total salary of about $243,000 for the three roles is much higher than those of other Central Oregon superintendents who lead larger school districts. Shay Mikalson, who heads Bend-La Pine Schools, will earn nearly $172,000 this year, according to Bulletin reports. With more than 18,000 students, his district is about six times the size of Jefferson County School District. Redmond School District had close to 7,400 students in the 2016-17 school year, compared with the 3,000 enrolled at Jefferson County. That district’s superintendent, Mike McIntosh, will earn about $151,000 this year.

But at Bend-La Pine Schools’ Sept. 26 board meeting, Mikalson’s pay was a topic school board members said they need to reconsider. Board member Cheri Helt said it’s better to pay Mikalson a competitive wage than to lose him when they’re highly pleased with his work, because having a high turnover of superintendents can wreak havoc in a school district.

It can also be difficult to find like districts to compare superintendent salaries, even for a district like Bend-La Pine, school board member Peggy Kinkade said.

Parshall pointed to the different challenges his job presents compared with other local districts.

“They’re not taking over one of the lowest performing districts in the state,” he said.

In addition to the uniqueness of the Jefferson County School District’s student population, the school board expects its superintendent to build government to government relationships, such as one with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

“We were looking for him and are looking for him to do a lot of things we were struggling to do and we have to pay for that,” Snead said. “With people in those leadership roles retiring out, the pool is getting smaller of people who have leadership qualities.”

Snead said she feels “the future looks really bright for Jefferson County.”

“I’m super excited about Ken’s leadership and what the next couple of years are going to bring for our students,” Snead said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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