Erik Ohlund has a message for the University High School community.
“I have two major activities in my life,” said the school’s new principal. “One is my family, the other is my work. The culmination of that work is the achievement of our students.”
Ohlund, 46, is the rookie among four new principals at the Spokane Valley’s high schools. But Jeff Miller at East Valley and Paul Sturm at Central Valley each have only one year under their belts.
Cleve Penberthy, after just two years as principal at West Valley, has seniority over the bunch.
This sort of turnover in one area is unusual but reflective of a trend statewide, said Brian Barker, executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals.
Many people who became educators during the 1960s are retiring now as principals or superintendents, Barker said. In the five-year period beginning in 1994, he added, statewide projections say 50 to 60 percent of those administrators will retire.
Such was the case at both East Valley and West Valley high schools. Miller replaced retiring principal Don Kartevold at EVHS and Penberthy took over at WVHS after Bill Hawley retired. At CVHS, Sturm took over when Larry Parsons accepted an administrative position in Spokane School District 81. At U-Hi, Ohlund replaces Dennis Hill, who was re-assigned to be assistant principal at CV.
Ohlund comes to U-Hi with substantial experience - six years as assistant principal of Spokane’s North Central High School and 16 years in the Coeur d’Alene School District, including three as athletic director and 13 as teacher and coach.
A chief interest for Ohlund is interdisciplinary study, combining classes to teach students to approach problems from different angles.
Student approval for indisciplinary study at North Central was high, Ohlund said in his soft but engaging voice.
Ohlund played a large part in beginning the interdisciplinary classes at North Central, even when he feared some of them wouldn’t fill.
For example, said Ohlund, who illustrates most points with a story, a 10th- and 11th-grade class combining social studies, science, math and English seemed an impossible union.
“One hundred and twenty-five kids signed up,” he announced with pride. “Some got bumped.”
While Ohlund was at North Central, the school was beginning to examine non-traditional schedules. A “school day committee” had just been established, he said.
“I left them with the folders and three meetings,” Ohlund joked. At U-Hi, a committee tested the waters for a four-period day three years ago. Although more than 50 percent of the parents surveyed favored the change, a vocal minority shot it down.
Ohlund’s own interests are clearly defined, but he’s not ready to set the agenda at U-Hi. He met with teachers and staff during the summer and is excited about the enthusiasm and commitment to students he sees.
But, he said, “It’s very difficult to make judgments based strictly on conversations. The notion that somehow this can be directed from the top - it won’t work. If it isn’t a collaborative effort, you’re really working alone.”
Ohlund has set up some personal goals at U-Hi. One is to get parents involved in their children’s educations.
“The easiest way is to make a big mistake,” joked Ohlund, who always seems amused, as if each thought brings back a funny memory.
Seriously, he said, getting parents involved at the high school level is one of the more challenging jobs for an administrator, because students become more independent as they get older and parents are less protective.
Another of Ohlund’s goals, born from years of working closely with students as a teacher and coach, is to be visible to students and get to know them.
“(Teaching) was one of the more rewarding times in my life, where you kind of see the fruits of your work, you see it directly,” he said. “I need to be at any and all activities that recognize student achievement.”
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