June 1, 2022 — When Mapleton Elementary School Principal and District Superintendent Jodi O’Mara turns in her keys on June 23, it will be for the last time.
That day will mark the end of a decade-long run as the head of Mapleton School District (MSD), a job that turned out to be much more than just school administration.
O’Mara will be replaced by Sue Wilson, who was hired after a search in which two different professional search firms, the Mapleton School Board and the upriver community all gave input. Wilson’s first day will be June 30.
O’Mara was hired by MSD in July 2012. She came to the area with extensive experience as an educator all over Oregon before that.
She graduated from Western Oregon State College (now Western Oregon University) in 1991. She grew up in Roseburg and returned there to start her teaching career. After five years teaching in her hometown, she moved to Florence to take a position at Siuslaw Middle School.
SMS is where O’Mara decided to try administration, mainly because she wanted to help more than just her own students.
“I knew I was making a big impact on the kids in my own class,” remembered O’Mara. “I wanted to impact more kids. So, I thought okay, I’ll go into administration, because you’re still involved with kids, but you have to focus on not only instruction but also behavior and culture and climate, plus helping parents and kids.”
In 2012, O’Mara was hired as not only superintendent of Mapleton School District but also principal of Mapleton Elementary.
“I will tell you, a big reason I took the superintendent position in Mapleton is because it was in a small rural district, and I could still be a principal,” said O’Mara. “I never wanted to be a superintendent at a large district where you would be disconnected from the kids.”
Though O’Mara appreciated the impact she was having as an administrator, she always most enjoyed teaching kids lessons they would use for the rest of their lives.
“A lot of what the world needs today are skills they should be taught at an elementary level,” said O’Mara. “For example, you’re not going to like everyone you work with. You have to learn to get along.”
When O’Mara arrived in 2012, the district was struggling a bit.
“When I arrived, Mapleton was a ‘priority school’ meaning it was in the bottom 10% of Title 1 schools in Oregon,” said O’Mara.
The Title 1 program provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers or high percentages of low income children to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.
“Oregon Department of Education (ODE) was looking at ways to help support schools with struggling learners and to make sure that kids are meeting certain benchmarks,” recalled O’Mara. “When I came in, ODE gave lots of support to priority schools. We had a leadership coach who came in and we worked with staff on instruction and adopting curriculum. It had been several years since we adopted new curriculum. We adopted a new reading and language arts curriculum and purged the old. We used our educational assistants within the classroom setting to help support student learning. Just a lot of changes around structures of classes and instruction. Basically, we got on the pathway to letting our students know that they mattered.”
All these changes had to be made while normal school life went on.
“We used to say we had to build the plane while it was in midair,” said O’Mara. “But we were successful in turning things around.”
The next big achievement during O’Mara’s tenure was the passing of a bond measure to support the district in 2016. The bond was for $4 million and included a matching grant from the State of Oregon.
“That gave us $8 million,” said O’Mara. “We also got seismic upgrade grants. We had a total of $11 million for a remodeling project. It’s been a long time since we’ve had the funding for a remodel.”
Seismic upgrades were made to all the MSD’s buildings. Technology was upgraded. Restrooms were added to every classroom. The food service areas were improved. The schools in the MSD never looked and operated so well. School continued as all this construction happened. O’Mara managed it all perfectly.
“With assistance from a state matching fund grant, she masterfully managed that massive project to completion,” recalled Michelle Holman, a director on the Mapleton School District School Board.
Construction wrapped up around 2019. A year later COVID-19 hit.
“COVID-19 was a struggle for small rural districts like ours,” said O’Mara. “We scrambled and our staff was just amazingly efficient at meeting the needs of our students from our preschool all the way up to our 12th grade, and things changed a lot.”
According to the superintendent, the most important thing during the pandemic was keeping students connected. To do that, O’Mara and her staff got creative. They delivered hot-spots to people’s homes to provide Wi-Fi or set up hard copy homework packets for those families that couldn’t or didn’t want to connect to the internet.
Then, when COVID numbers dropped low enough for students to return, the next challenge was helping them transition back into an in-person school setting.
“This year has been about getting our kids used to going to school again,” said O’Mara. “How to socially interact, make friends, follow directions, things like that.”
Just as things returned to normal, O’Mara has had to start to say goodbye.
“I’m a big proponent of change,” said O’Mara. “I’ve been here 10 years and the district — and I — are both ready for our next big adventure. I’m excited for the future of the district. I’m really looking forward to the middle and high school getting a CTE (career and technical education) program. We’re working on getting a teacher to teach it, but it will include welding, woodshop, metals, things like that.”
O’Mara and MSD are excited for what’s next. That doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to someone who meant so much to this small community, but part of O’Mara’s leadership style was providing a path to success in the future.
“Jodi came to Mapleton as a rookie superintendent and over the years has become a well-seasoned, exceptionally capable, exemplary professional,” recalled Holman. “Her dedication, hard work, combined with her intellect, humility, integrity, commitment and loyalty to our Mapleton School community has benefitted our entire school community. Because of her vision — put into concrete action — future students, staff and community members will continue to benefit from her influence, as well.”
After lots of doing nothing, followed by a vacation with her husband, then more doing nothing, O’Mara plans to eventually support and mentor new administrators in small rural districts like Mapleton, something that she learned takes some very specific skills.
“In a small district, you wear lots of hats,” said O’Mara. “I feel like I would be able to mentor somebody new to that role.”
New to the role of superintendent is Wilson, who was introduced at the May 18 meeting of the Mapleton School Board. The budget for the 2022-23 year was also approved at the meeting.
To see the meeting in full go to youtu.be/FAXuhFql-2w. They will meet again June 15 at 6 p.m.
Graduation for Mapleton’s senior class is Saturday, June 11, at 2 p.m. at Mapleton High, 10868 East Mapleton Road.
For more information, go to www.mapleton.k12.or.us.