A Tradition of Caring, Quality, and Growth
This year is the busiest ever in the Camas School District. Senior projects, Core 24, Integrated Arts and Academics and Project-Based Learning are all in full swing. And looking to the future, planning is already underway for the new Lacamas Heights Elementary School, with a hopeful launch in 2018. Similarly, the high school extension of the new project-based-learning program opens 2018 on the Camas High School campus.
Alongside all of this progress and commotion comes great responsibility, most of which falls on the shoulders of new Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell.
Snell, an educator for more than 20 years and former deputy superintendent, is already getting down to business. As the pioneer of the recent bond effort, Snell expertly navigated its implementation, even while facing obstacles like the unexpected purchase of the Sharp Campus.
Snell explains, “We had to go back to the community to change the bond. It was a hard process but we want to be mindful because public trust is really important.”
It is that mindfulness of keeping the community involved in the decisions of the school district that perpetuates the tradition of caring, quality and growth.
“We all naturally want to matter.”
Moreover, Snell commented it is the job of ‘our district’ to make sure it delivers for the community.
As the district grows, however, accommodating the ever-rising number of students becomes more of a challenge. Snell passionately supports the new project-based-learning program as, “Another great option for students,” he explains, “[it’s] different than a traditional environment to build their skills and knowledge.”
The P.B.L. middle school will come fully online in the next year or two and will house hundreds of students eager to learn with a hands-on approach.
Snell explains why students gravitate to this approach, even as sixth graders. “Students tell me that they’re excited to learn at a deeper level,” he says, “it gives students the ability to develop communication skills, project management skills and other essential skills.”
Increasing the diversity of the district is also of concern for Snell. As the former principal of Fort Vancouver High School, Jeff has experience in districts with high diversity. He explains that we are, “Seeing shifts and more diverse students, and I think that is a great thing.”
Diversity isn’t just a number or a quota, it is a fact of life. Snell saw how students learned from each other in more diverse schools. Students and staff can understand the story of a refugee and the stories of those in different walks of life from personal experience and by learning from those around them.
Snell adds, “Paying attention to the student experience, and shaping that experience helps to diversify minds and ideas.” Camas has seen a rise in diverse clubs that only emphasize the growing diversity of ‘our district’ and leads to a broader diversity of ideas.
“Whatever [a student’s] experience is, it’s ok, they share commonalities with other people.”
Snell also recognizes students are not learning everything they should be. When thinking about new opportunities and pathways after high school, many students feel overwhelmed and struggle to find their path. Snell wants to develop an education that is more personal to the individual student. He poses the question: “How do we create an educational experience to give you Aristotle and preparation for the real world?”
It is this dilemma that Snell finds himself struggling to reinvent the handling of education. “We want to engage people,” he says, “and give them an opportunity to contribute and combat the mentality that others don’t matter because we all naturally want to matter.”
Making sure students, staff and community members alike feel appreciated is a large part of the overall ‘Camas Cares’ philosophy. Snell experiences this sense of community every day.
“It’s hard to separate private and public life as superintendent,” Snell explains,” and 99.9 percent of the time that’s a good thing; we are all in this together.”
He feels fortunate to be a part of such a caring community, one that has helped him to feel supported on a personal level, too. His son Micah, born with a form of cerebral palsy, makes him appreciate things he would have never appreciated before. “He [Micah] has taught me what is important and what is not important,” Snell says, “it helps me to stay even keel even through highs and lows. Snell and his wife created an organization surrounding their son, Micah, called Micah’s Miles. You can learn more about Micah and the organization at micahsmiles.org.
Snell believes in the Camas tradition of ‘caring, quality, and growth’ and through it all follows a basic philosophy: “Treat people right, have a mission centered on students and empower teachers.”