News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Moore leaves SCSD sounder than he found it

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Santiam Canyon School Board Chair Rich Moore has resigned after helping lead the district through some of its most tumultuous years.

Moore’s resignation was accepted by the board during its April 13 regular meeting after he decided it was time to pass the baton following nine years in office. Vice Chair Angie Fencl will take over as chair, while the board appointed Mary Schenk, of Gates, to fill Moore’s former seat.

Superintendent Todd Miller said Moore has been “invaluable” to the district for his ability to listen to the concerns of stakeholders and instill confidence during a challenge.

“His presence and the way he ran meetings made it feel like a very safe place,” said Miller. 

A district in crisis

Moore was first elected in 2013 when SCSD was recovering from numerous blows to its finances and leadership.

The district started the 2012/13 school year with a $700,000 deficit due to drops in enrollment and state funding, which led to the closure of Gates Elementary and drastic reductions in student programs. Then longtime Superitnendent Brad Yates resigned June 1, 2012, after two employees accused him of sexual harassment, though Yates attributed his resignation to health concerns.

Amid these challenges, all school board positions were filled by newcomers in the May 2013 election. Two incumbents chose not to seek re-election, while two moved out of the district and the fifth lost his election bid.

Regaining public trust

Moore was chosen as chair of the new board, a position he held off-and-on during his nine years in office. Miller was also hired that year as superintendent, leaving the district with an entirely new administration.

Miller said the highest priority for the district was regaining public confidence, which presented a significant challenge. But as Moore was a former counselor and coach at Santiam High School, Miller said the board chair had the skillsets necessary to take the lead.

“There was a lot of work that we needed to do to get things back on track, but one of the first things we needed was trust, we needed to earn trust back,” said Miller. “Just by [Moore] being who he is and everyone’s respect for him and the way he came in and conducted business, that was a huge factor in regaining trust from our community and our parents and our businesses.”

Lofty goals, real expectations

With Moore as chair, the board set a realistic budget and pursued new opportunities to invest in students. This included a five-year partnership with Oregon Connections Academy, an online charter school where Miller formerly served as executive director.

Within a couple of years, the district’s financing was again stable and enrollment was on the rise. By 2019, with Moore again serving as chair, the board thought it was time to undertake loftier ambitions, such as replacement of Santiam Junior/Senior High School, which was 65 years old and had not received a major upgrade in 40 years.

The district asked voters for a $17.9 million bond – the first in its history, as previous capital projects were funded by timber revenue. The bond measure passed with 53 percent approval and Miller said Moore was instrumental in drumming up support among a critical voter demographic: senior citizens. 

Though seniors often vote, they don’t always have a direct connection to issues affecting local schools. Miller said Moore, a retiree himself, was able to communicate the importance of the bond and how it would benefit the community.

“He’s so trusted that people knew, if he is on that board, they must be doing good things or doing things with good intent,” said Miller.

But then there was 2020

While construction of the new school was under way, 2020 dealt more crippling blows to SCSD. The COVID-19 pandemic forced classes and meetings online, then wildfires devastated the region, but left the new school unscathed.

Miller said Moore’s encouraging attitude as a leader didn’t change during these trying times. He felt Moore’s support personally during crises, picking up the relationship the two had when Moore was a counselor at the high school and Miller one of his students.

“As I look at my Santiam Canyon experience, [Moore] does play a huge part in the success that we’ve had and helped me stick through and fight through some of the very difficult times we’ve had to get through here,” Miller said. “…Those first few years were so stressful and scary for me. Having Mr. Moore by my side through it, he was essential.”

Miller said he is grateful to all the board members he has worked with over the years, but Moore’s impact has been felt most strongly.

“Everyone owes a huge amount of gratitude to him,” said Miller. “I’ll never be able to thank that guy enough for all the things he did for me.”

Cohesion and follow-through

Moore said the district’s recovery and resilience were possible due to a supportive community and cohesion among board members. He said officials didn’t get bogged down in partisan political issues and instead focused on what actions would be the best for the district.

“I just wish that everyone in districts would get away from national politics, because the only thing we can control is what’s in our own area and in our own school district,” he said.

Moore added that there has been an emphasis within the board on action rather than merely ideas. He said it’s one thing to be in agreement about what should be done, but it’s another to bring a project across the finish line.

“We can all be on the right page, but we all need to stay there and finish what we start,” he said.

Moore said he is not leaving any projects incomplete as he departs. He most recently played a role working with state legislators during the 2022 short session to change how enrollment is calculated for districts hit by natural disasters. 

Because SCSD and districts in Jackson and Lane counties saw significant drops in enrollment after the 2020 wildfires, the state agreed to a freeze in the numbers used to calculate state funding for a few years. Moore said that should give such districts time to recover.

Time to move on

Moore said he is proud of the district’s return to financial health, and other milestones such as the addition of specialists able to hone in on student needs such as music, reading, math and counseling. He said the time has come for a younger generation, particularly those with children in the district, to join the board.

“It’s time to focus on something else, and truthfully I think it’s always great when we can add people who have kids in our own system,” he said. “…I’ve enjoyed my nine years on the board but it was time to give it up.”

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