Waving 'Goodbye' to West Linn
Leaving the West Linn-Wilsonville School District won't be easy for West Linn principals Carolyn Miller, Jim Mangan and Holly Omlin-Ruback.
The three principals of West Linn primary schools are either set to retire or move on to different positions after giving a farewell to their careers in the district at the end of this school year.
Miller, current principal of Cedaroak Park Primary, will be retiring from the district and pursuing part-time consulting work surrounding inclusion in Oregon and Washington schools. Trillium Creek Primary Principal Mangan has taken an administrative position in the Hood River County School District and Omlin-Ruback, Bolton Primary principal, will retire after 24 years in the WL-WV School District.
"Being a principal, it's just such a gratifying job," Miller said. "Being a teacher and a principal are the hardest jobs I've ever done but they're also the most engaging, fun and fascinating of all the rolls I've done. That's because you get to work closely with children who are fascinating; children who love to learn; children who are funny and courageous and just amazing people."
Third time's a charm
Creating an environment that fostered a sense of belonging was important to Miller and that was one of her favorite aspects of Cedaroak.
"I feel like it's my home so that's a pretty powerful thing in your work life and that's what I've always wanted to create for students," Miller said. "We all learn and work better when we belong to something that presses us to be more than what we ever thought we could be. That's what this community has done for me."
Since Miller started her career at Cedaroak as an instructional coordinator (IC) in 2000, she bounced around before landing back at Cedaroak for a third time. After her stint as an IC, she transitioned to Athey Creek Middle School and worked as an assistant principal and principal. She then moved back to Cedaroak as principal for three years before working in district office jobs for five years — both in WL-WV and the Beaverton School District — before she made her final return to Cedaroak as principal.
The world of education fascinated Miller from an early age. In college, she was an outdoor school counselor and also worked alongside teachers, mentoring at-risk youth prior to student teaching.
"I had so many opportunities that allowed me to know that this is what I'm passionate about before I got to the point that I was even taking specific classes or coursework in education," Miller said. "I love the energy, the ability to be creative and innovative. I think that kids are hilarious and I just love engaging with them and whether that's preschoolers or middle schoolers, they just have so much to say so I learn from them all the time. You are never bored."
One of Miller's highlights during her time at Cedaroak was hearing student voices during a building remodel years ago. She said there was an active student leadership team that gathered input throughout the year and identified what their school should look like.
"That was such a powerful opportunity for kids to basically be empowered and to have a stake in the design of their school, not just their own individual learning, but this is something they helped craft and build," Miller said.
Though Miller will be retiring from the school district this year, she will still be working as a consultant for schools that are working on ways to become more inclusive.
Miller will take her knowledge from being a teacher, principal and assistant special education director for three years in WL-WV with her into her next role.
She said there's been a press for school districts to mainstream students with intellectual disabilities, behavioral needs or impacts from disabilities like autism, into general education classrooms and to do it in a way that works and is affordable. She wants to be a part of creating that inclusive culture.
"That's my next life work," she said, adding that she's not really retiring, "I'm just doing some different things."
A life move
Mangan was not looking to leave Trillium Creek Primary when an opportunity to become vice principal at an elementary school in Hood River fell into his lap within the last month.
Mangan, who has been principal for the last two years, initially planned to retire from Trillium and then move into his dream home that he's been constructing in White Salmon, near Hood River.
But the move will be much sooner.
About a month ago, Mangan was encouraged to apply for the position in Hood River, and since he was already building a house in the Gorge, he went for it. The new position also provides him with more time on his hands to do the thing he loves: being outdoors.
"Why not live, play and work in the Gorge, where I always thought was the best place? It's much more of a life move than a career move for me, not that I'll stop learning and growing," he said. "Everyone understands. They know the beauty of the Gorge and they know my lifestyle. They know I'm into hiking and the outdoors and home improvement."
Though Mangan was fairly new to the WL-WV School District, he has been in education for about 30 years, most of his years spent in the Portland Public School District.
He initially became involved in education as a summer camp counselor in high school and college.
"I found out I had a talent for teaching and when you have a talent for something and you love something, that's what you should pursue so that's what I've done forever," Mangan said. "I've never not had a winter break or spring break in my life."
Mangan said one of the highlights during his time at Trillium was having the opportunity to be involved with such a supportive community.
"I'm most proud of the work that the staff has really done on improving what we do here. Kids are learning, growing and maturing and having fun as they are doing it and that's what we've been working on," he said. "We set our goal, our mission, to create a culture of excellence and equity to create a culture of care. That's our vision and we've made a lot of gains to realizing that vision and I'm really confident that will continue because it's not just dependent on me, it's this incredible staff and the support of the parents."
He said he's enjoyed working with Trillium staff and the WL-WV administration and has valued the district's leadership.
"What can happen when you empower teachers to make decisions and come together as a professional learning community, it's almost endless what we can do when we work together as opposed to separating in our own individual classrooms," he said. "It was not an easy decision to leave this because I know how good I have it."
Leaving your mark
After being a principal at Bolton for 12 years and prior to that, as a teacher, counselor and instructional coordinator at Stafford Primary for 12 years, Omlin-Ruback is set to retire from the district this June. This shift is proving to be quite emotional for her.
"I will miss seeing kids every day, interacting with them, their funny stories and their amazing view on the world," Omlin-Ruback said. "When you see the world through their eyes, it's pretty fun."
Omlin-Ruback has always loved working with children and wanted to become an educator so she could make a difference.
When she was in second grade, she remembers having a teacher who let her sing a song in front of the class.
"She was incredibly supportive and honored who I was and allowed me to venture out and supported me in doing that, even though she knew I was probably a terrible singer," Omlin-Ruback said.
She wanted to have this same impact on kids in her future as an educator: "to be able to understand who kids are and support them and what they love," she added.
Omlin-Ruback initially taught in Georgia for six years as a preschool and elementary teacher before coming to the WL-WV School District.
Some of her favorite memories at Bolton have been establishing the school garden and seeing last year's students decorate the front of the building with bird artwork — each bird represented every student and staff member at Bolton last year.
"The really cool part was once the birds were up, kids just standing out there staring to find which bird their bird was," she said. "I like that because I think it brightened the building and made the front of it prettier."
When Omlin-Ruback retires, she plans to take Spanish and pottery classes. She's also looking forward to traveling, hiking and not having a set schedule every day. But one thing Omlin-Ruback knows she wants to do for sure is work with kids.
"I'm not exactly sure what I will do, but I will do something with kids," she said.
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