Craig Swanson wasn’t looking for a new job this summer.
He had completed four years as the principal at Sprague High School in Salem and he was very happy to continue in that role. So when Lebanon Community Schools Superintendent Bo Yates called him to discuss taking the same role at Lebanon High School, Swanson didn’t think anything would come of it.
“When he reached out, I was honestly kind of like ‘things are going really well at Sprague.’ I spent a lot of work, a lot of time and energy getting that into a very high-functioning school and wasn’t really interested in parting ways, especially in late July,” Swanson said.
The position opened up when LHS Principal Brad Shreve accepted an offer from Roberts High School in Salem. Shreve had served as the Lebanon High principal for seven years. The Lebanon school district announced Shreve’s move on Monday, July 29.
Yates was determined to fill the role before the school year began, if at all possible, and Swanson was an easy call to make. Yates’ wife, Terra, is an administrator at West Salem High School and knew Swanson after working with him in the Salem-Keizer School District for several years.
“She knows Craig and was very high on him,” Yates said, adding that he also consulted others who could offer their insight. “I took some time and visited with people that were very familiar with other principals in the area and he was very highly recommended.”
After speaking with Swanson, the superintendent was even more convinced he was the right candidate.
“We sat down and had an informal talk and we got along extremely well, had similar views on how to run the school and what type of support a principal would need to be successful and it kind of went from there. He’s had really positive results at Sprague High School, one of the better high schools in the area,” Yates said.
Swanson said his respect for Terra Yates was part of the reason he took the call. His interest grew after his initial conversation with the superintendent.
“We had a great conversation, to the point where I was very interested in applying and interviewing for the position,” Swanson said.
While he still had doubts about whether he could make the move, Swanson became more certain as he spent more time in Lebanon driving around and meeting people in the community and seeing the high school campus.
He became more convinced Lebanon was the right choice as he understood the opportunity it represented.
“You’ve got an entire community that is putting their resources towards this high school. It’s not split between six other high schools, which is the model I’m coming from in Salem,” Swanson said. “It’s not to fault that model, but (here) I have a direct line to the district office. As teachers share with me ways that they need to be supported, as I identify things that in my experience are concerns and we need to address, I call Superintendent Yates and say ‘I would like to discuss this with you and I think I’ve got a plan for how we can make things better.’”
There are challenges at Lebanon High School. Yates has previously indicated his dissatisfaction with the percentage of LHS freshmen who were on track academically after the 2018-19 school year. The on-track rate stood at 78 percent, which Yates described as not acceptable.
Swanson said it is crucial to not place blame for the problem, with the high school blaming middle schools and the middle schools doing the same with the elementary schools.
“What we always want to avoid is finger-pointing. I’ve experienced that in pretty much every school district I’ve worked in,” Swanson said. “Nobody wins. I think what Superintendent Yates has done is identify some crystal-clear goals of every student reading at grade level by third grade, every math student coming into the high school ready for Algebra 1 or above. You start with clearly identified goals and then we work backward with ‘what does that take? What is it going to take to get there, what is the plan?’ And then you develop that plan and work the plan and monitor its progress.”
Swanson said he has been asked whether he sees Lebanon High School as being college-focused or career-focused. He thinks this is a false choice in today’s world. No matter which path students choose, job training and re-training is going to be a reality.
High school graduates need to be able to master new information no matter which setting they are in, a college classroom or the workplace.
“We have to be both. When they graduate from Lebanon, I want students to have multiple doors open for them to walk through. And I want every single one of those doors to be something that they’re excited about,” Swanson said. “If we say we’re only this, or only that, we’re going to be shutting doors on what students want to pursue and that’s not our right.”