Jay Mathisen had just left his administrative position at Bend-La Pine Schools for a job with George Fox University, when he heard Jefferson County School District needed a new superintendent.
He said he knew he had to apply for the job.
“I love what I’m doing at George Fox,” said Mathisen, 47. “But when the superintendent seat in Jefferson County came up, it was too good to pass up.”
After a months-long interview process, the Jefferson County School Board has named Mathisen as its new superintendent. Mathisen will replace the retiring superintendent, Ken Parshall, on July 1.
Mathisen said he’s ready for the new challenge in leading a school district far different than Bend-La Pine — smaller, more rural and more ethnically diverse. But instead of charging in with new ideas, he plans to establish a relationship with the community first, he said.
“It’s never wise to ride into town as somebody new and bring a basket full of ideas until you listen and learn from those doing the good work there,” Mathisen said.
Since July 2020, Mathisen has been the director of educational leadership at George Fox University in Newberg. Before then, he spent 15 years in Bend-La Pine Schools, most recently as the deputy superintendent for five years.
Mathisen was also the principal of La Pine High School for five years, the district’s administrative superintendent for three years, and he began his career in the district in September 2005 with a two-year stint as La Pine Middle School’s principal, he said.
Before then, he was a middle and high school coach and teacher in the McKenzie School District in rural Lane County.
Mathisen said his time in La Pine gives him some knowledge of how to lead rural schools, even though that community is different from Madras or Warm Springs.
“I think there are some things that will transfer from there,” he said.
Mathisen said he has never worked in a school district with a large Native American population like Jefferson County. Typically, about a third of the school district’s student population identifies as Native American.
“I have not served in a community with a significant Native American population,” Mathisen said. “I’m looking forward to learning and listening and serving.”
However, Mathisen is comfortable working and living in a rural community. He grew up in Warsaw, Indiana, which is about the size of Pendleton, and his wife is from a rural area in California, he said.
“My wife and I are both small-town kids in terms of our childhoods, and it feels really good, the time we’ve spent in Jefferson County this past week,” Mathisen said. “It feels like a place we could settle in.”
Laurie Danzuka, chair of the Jefferson County School Board, said the board thought Mathisen’s experience with Central Oregon education was a perk.
“Connections within the region, knowing the barriers we face and the good things about being in the region — those are all definite advantages for us,” she said.
But Mathisen’s outsider perspective, having never worked in Jefferson County before, will also be valuable, Danzuka said.
“It’s always exciting to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to start something else, and go forward, and see what other improvements we can make.’”