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Day: August 11, 2014

Pleasing new Weddle principal boils down to two simple rules

Wendy Roberts will lead Weddle Elementary School beginning with the 20014-15 school year. She has taught students and teachers in the Keizer area for more than 20 years. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Wendy Roberts will lead Weddle Elementary School beginning with the 20014-15 school year. She has taught students and teachers in the Keizer area for more than 20 years. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The way Wendy Roberts sees it, students end up in the principal’s office for failure to do one of two things: work hard or be nice.

Roberts is the new principal of Weddle Elementary School, taking over for of longtime principal Samantha Ragaisis who left for an out-of-district job opportunity at the end of the school year.

“As much as anything, the new curriculums we are instituting are about communicating ideas. We have to do that with compassion for each other and while enjoying the time we have productively,” Roberts said.

In other words, as a large piece of artwork in her new office announces, “Work hard and be nice.”

Roberts taught at Keizer’s Kennedy Elementary School for 15 years before accepting a position at Lake Labish Elementary School as an instructional coach. She served there until the school was repurposed and has been instructional coach at Kennedy and Weddle for the past three years.

Roberts felt called to be a teacher from a young age when her third grade counselor took her under his wing.

“He invited me to go to the first and second grade classrooms doing little guidance sessions, and I knew from that moment I was going to be a teacher or counselor,” Roberts said.

The move to administrative roles came after the former Lake Labish principal, Manuel Palacio, took note of her potential and urged her to investigate the opportunities therein. Weddle is her first principal assignment.

In addition to Roberts, the school is expecting a wave of new faculty and employees, but Roberts is looking at it as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to re-establishing relationships with the teachers I knew as an instructional coach and the families I got to know through that role, but this will be a time to figure out the Weddle Way. We’ll redefine it together and make the school a unique place for kids,” she said.

The Salem-Keizer School district is rolling out Smarter Balanced Assessments for all grades for the first time this year. The assessments are developed with an eye toward Common Core standards in math and language arts with the goal of increasing student achievement.

“The pressure is going to be felt all the way down to kindergarten because the standards are more rigorous than what we’ve done in the past,” Roberts said.

The students, she added, need to be the focus of every decision.

“I take education very seriously and it all boils down to what is best for the students. All students need to feel like they can set and achieve goals no matter what their background is,” she said.

“Good Morning, Mr. Mandela” by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela” by Zelda la Grange

c.2014, Viking
$28.95 / $33.00 Canada
368 pages

Good-Morning-Mr-Mandela

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

You are entitled to change your mind.

You don’t have to apologize or admit you were wrong. Just act on your new convictions and, sooner or later, someone will notice your different opinions, improved ideals, and open mind.

For most of her life, author Zelda la Grange held beliefs that everyone around her shared. In the new book “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela,” she explains how those tenets changed, and who led her there.

Though she was born into a “very poor” family, Zelda la Grange had it better than the black citizens of Johannesburg in 1970: as an Afrikaner “boere-meisie,” she enjoyed legal privileges that came with being white.

“We were happy children growing up in apartheid South Africa,” she says, having been taught that blacks and whites never mixed. Blacks were “dangerous.”

After receiving secretarial training, la Grange’s first job was with the South African government. It was a “riveting and dangerous” time then; apartheid had ended, whites feared black reprisals, and South Africa had inaugurated its first democratically-elected black President whose office happened to need a typist. Knowing very little about the man for whom she’d work, la Grange applied for the position.

The first time she met her new boss, she cried. “It was all too much,” she says; perhaps because Nelson Mandela kindly addressed her in her “home language,” and not his own.

Soon, Madiba (his clan name) began to rely on la Grange for everything. She read to him, helped with speeches, traveled with him, soothed his temper, and protected his time. He called her on her phone, sometimes a hundred times a day. The “same man my Afrikaner compatriots warned me against” became like a beloved grandfather to her, and she fretted over his needs and his health until the end of his life, when his office closed, she was demoted, and was denied access to his sickroom.

“I made a promise [to stick with him],” she says. “I was going to be there right to the end, even if it meant I had to stand at a fence outside his farm… when they laid him to rest. Unbeknown to me, that would be close to the truth.”

We do love our saints, which is why “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela” is so interesting: author Zelda la Grange gives us a beautiful portrait of a beautiful man, but it’s a picture with surprising exposure.

This intimate peek into Mandela’s persona starts out with la Grange’s biography, which stages where we’re going. Get past that, and the pay-off is rich: la Grange describes Mandela as having a keen sense of humor, but he sometimes engaged in mean-spirited teasing. He was generous with his time, but not always respectful of that of others. Mandela couldn’t say “no” to anyone, but was prone to fits of “furious.”

In other words, human, which is what makes this book so enjoyable. Yes, “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela” has its first-time-author flaws and yes, it can be repetitive, but catch that hero-as-a-man facet, and I don’t think you’ll mind.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

Gators get new ‘pal with old ties to Keizer schools

Dave Bertholf will replace Jesse Leonard at Gubser Elementary School this year. Leonard was reassigned down the street at Kennedy Elementary School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Dave Bertholf will replace Jesse Leonard at Gubser Elementary School this year. Leonard was reassigned down the street at Kennedy Elementary School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

For Dave Bertholf, a new job as principal of Gubser Elementary School is as much a return to Keizer as it is a chance to tackle new challenges.

“Gubser was one of the schools on a very short list of places I was hoping for when I found out I was going to be reassigned,” said Bertholf.

Bertholf’s first teaching job in Keizer was as part of the staff at Clear Lake Elementary School. The school, which was still housed in the building that became the Keizer Heritage Center, was celebrating its 101st year in 1992, and it was the first time there were enough students enrolled for classes to move beyond blended grade levels. At Gubser, Bertholf will fill the shoes of Jesse Leonard, who was reassigned to Keizer’s Kennedy Elementary School.

“The first year will be dedicated to relationship-building. The job is always about people even when the focus is test scores. I have to do a lot of listening and question-asking and strengthen the things that are working,” Bertholf said.

Bertholf moved from the classroom to administration in 2001. He took over the principal’s office at Bush Elementary School for eight years before being reassigned to Scott Elementary School, his last post before coming to Gubser.

Bush and Scott elementary schools share Title I status meaning students often face challenges that go beyond test scores. Among the challenges Bertholf expects to face at Gubser is the continued adaptation to Common Core standards, which have caused no shortage of consternation from some educators and parents.

“Part of a principal’s job is being a sense-maker on topics like Common Core and helping parents and teachers understand what it can mean for students,” he said.

Bertholf also hopes to be a mirror for the staff members reflecting back what they do well.

“Even great teachers don’t always know what makes them great, one of my roles is to help them hone in on it and supervise where it counts,” he said.

While Gubser has a history of high marks in testing outcomes, Bertholf said the interpersonal aspects of the job are just as important.

“A student won’t always remember what was taught, but they’ll remember how you made them feel,” he said. “We have to have good marks in testing, but that’s not what gets kids out of bed or parents excited about being part of the school.”

To that end, Bertholf’s approach to the job involves taking cues from the students and community at large.

“The students constantly teach me to be reflective, especially about the power of words. They make me really cognizant of what I say. Most of the students look up to you and care about you, and our words mean a lot to them. The intended message has to match the one they receive,” Bertholf said.