On this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto talks with Brian Berry, the superintendent at the Yoncalla School District, about how the district is empowering community members to become local educators, and shares the ways in which this strategy is paying off.
Brian Berry has been the Superintendent of Yoncalla School District for almost four years and an educator in the district for over 20. He started as a special education teacher at Yoncalla high school and eventually took over as high school principal in 2003. Eight years later, he was offered the position of district superintendent.
Brian discusses the “grow your own” strategy that the Yoncalla school district has adopted in order to help community members with an interest in education become local teachers. He shares a few stories about parents who have become instructional assistants and, through utilizing district resources and trainings, have moved on with the goal of getting their bachelor’s degree so they can continue to teach in their community. Finally, Brian lays out the benefits of the “grow your own” strategy and describes how this strategy meets the needs of the district, the students, and the Yoncalla community.
Rafael Otto: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Early Link Podcast. I’m your host, Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the air on 99.1 FM in Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM or subscribe and listen wherever you find your podcasts. Today, I’m speaking with Brian Berry, the superintendent at the Yoncalla school district. Yoncalla is part of our Early Works Initiative, a partnership that includes Children’s Institute and the Ford Family Foundation, and many other partners.
We’ll hear some of the things that the district is doing to support local talent in Yoncalla and help community members teach in the district. A grow-your-own strategy that is getting results. Brian, welcome to the podcast.
Brian Berry: [00:00:40] Thank you very much!
Rafael Otto: [00:00:41] I know it’s your spring break. I appreciate you taking some time when you’re supposed to have a little bit of downtime.
Give us an overview of the Yoncalla school district, if you can. What does someone who’s not familiar with Yoncalla need to know?
Brian Berry: [00:00:56] Well Yoncalla is a small rural community in Douglas County, actually Northern Douglas County. We have approximately 300 students and that’s preschool through 12th grade. A farming community, a very conservative community. They have rural conservative values, and it’s an absolutely awesome place to work.
Rafael Otto: [00:01:19] You’ve been in the district for quite a while, but you started as superintendent four years ago, yes?
Brian Berry: [00:01:25] Yes. I actually started teaching there in ‘96, then principal at the high school/middle schools since 2003. And then, yeah, this is my fourth year as superintendent.
Rafael Otto: [00:01:36] Tell me what that shift was like, moving from principal role over to the superintendent role?
Brian Berry: [00:01:43] Wow. That was quite the learning curve for me actually. At the time, I was in my own little building at the high school and my job was to make sure that kids graduated, really. So we would do anything legal to make sure kids got to graduation and really to set them up for any post-secondary opportunities that they were interested in.
I was in that position for a long time. Loved working with the kids at the high school and the middle school levels, and just really used to working with the parents and the community. And I believe I’ve earned their trust through all that hard work. You know, you’re always part of football games, volleyball games, basketball games, so the parents get to know you really, really well. And then our superintendent decided to retire, Jan Zarate, and she had been there for a few years and she asked me if I wanted to step in because she thought I was the person to lead the work forward. I was very apprehensive because I was very comfortable at the high school.
But then I thought to myself, you know what? I think I can learn, and I think I can grow and become an even better person and teacher moving forward. So I took on the challenge and it has been an incredible ride learning about preschool, working with Children’s Institute, Portland State University, Family Foundation, and just helping me move forward and growing as a person and moving the community forward.
For the full transcript, please download the pdf below.