In her own words …Discover how Barbara Rommel feels about her retirement, learn about her career, and hear about the changes she’s seen – both to education, and to outer East Portland neighborhoods, during her career …
Just days before she leaves her office for the last time, Superintendent Barbara Rommel of David Douglas Schools packs up mementos of her professional career.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
With the first of July came a change in leadership in the David Douglas School District, as Superintendent Barbara Rommel stepped down, and Superintendent Don Grotting took the reins.
> To learn more about Superintendent Don Grotting, in our article that introduced him to our community: CLICK HERE.
Rommel was in the process of packing up her belongings when she sat to talk with us about her career in education. Here, we present her observations and thoughts – in her own words.
“You seem happy about retirement,” we observed.
“I’ve had a long career,” Rommel said with a smile, “and, I’m looking forward to the benefits of retirement.”
Starts in the classroom
“I began my career teaching third grade in Eugene. I did that for a year while my husband finished up his degree in architecture. Then, I moved back to our hometown of Portland. I felt lucky to be hired by the David Douglas School District.
“I began here by teaching in first grade at North Powellhurst Elementary School where Tony Palermini was the principal. I taught in the classroom for seven years.
“Then, I became the district’s Reading Specialist. I helped teachers with their reading programs. After that, I became the district’s Staff Development Specialist, and helped plan classes for teachers. The next step was running the ‘resource room’ that we called the Staff Workcenter.”
Gains well-rounded administration experience
By that time, Dr. Anthony “Tony” Palermini had become superintendent of schools, Rommel continued.
“As Special Projects Director, I did grant writing, communication programs, and special activities and projects.
“When Ron Russell became superintendent, I became the District School Improvement Coordinator, and then worked in Human Resources. I was then selected as the Superintendent-elect, and did that for a year, ultimately becoming superintendent in 1998.”
Stayed on, to complete goals
“I certainly could have retired earlier than I did, but my plan was to retire this year,” Rommel continued. “One main reason was, when I became superintendent, I thought that was really important to follow one class through their entire 12 years at David Douglas schools.
“When I was superintendent-elect, the Class of 2010 were kindergartners; and when I became superintendent they were first-graders.
“It was my pleasure to make their graduation speech on June 9, 2010. I think that’s a good culmination of my time and superintendent – to be able to have one group of students that we followed all the way through their school career. In the field of education, it takes a long amount of time for a student to really reap all the benefits from various programs that have been put in place in the school district.”
Appreciates long-term perspective
“When you’re in the classroom as a teacher, you’re dealing with the particular expectations you would have for the students, aged that grade level. It does help to see those students mature and blossom.
“And, hopefully, to achieve the ultimate results you want for them, which is to become a gainfully employed, contributing member of society. Sometimes you don’t know that for quite a few years. That is one of the benefits of being an educator – to make that kind of a difference in people’s lives.”
Notes changes in school, demographics and technology
“One of the major changes is the growth in this area, and the increase in the number of students attending our school district. It’s been amazing.
“This reflects the growth of population in our area. Families are moving here, I believe, because housing in this area is some of the most affordable in the metropolitan area.
“Another big change has been the increase in the number of families who have newly immigrated to our country, and chosen to live in this area. About a quarter of our student population is from families who are newly immigrated and need ‘English as a Second Language’ assistance. That’s been a big change.
“Certainly, changes in technology have been substantial. When I first started teaching, we had tape recorders and earphones – that was considered advanced technology. When we needed copies, we did them on a hand-cranked Ditto machine. Now, all the teachers have computers, and have projectors, so they can put data up on the screen for students. Photocopies are easily made, or copies can be printed off your computer. The Internet has certainly provided access to information that was not available in my earlier years.”
Sees Special Education students mainstreamed
“Another thing: When I started teaching, students that had severe special education needs were educated through other private entities, not in public schools. The law changed, and now students who have special needs are in the mix with their peers.
“I think this is been an excellent change. It has enriched not only the experience for the special needs students, but also for the experiences for other students who need to learn about the variety of human abilities, and who gain the compassion one needs to live in the world.”
Incoming David Douglas Schools Superintendent Don Grotting works with Barbara Rommel to make a smooth transition of leadership.
Advice for Superintendent Grotting
Asked what advice she might have for incoming David Douglas Schools Superintendent Don Grotting, Rommel smiled, looked down and gently shook her head.
“I don’t really think he needs much advice. Don comes with a wide variety of skills and experiences. The fact that he’s already been an experienced school superintendent of a system in Oregon, will help him hit the ground running without much difficulty at all.”
Pressed for a specific answer, Rommel replied, “Try to laugh a little every day. Secondly, most of the things you worry about turn out not to be a problem; try to keep your worrying to a minimum.”
Outlines future plans
“So now, are you going to Disneyland?” we couldn’t help but ask.
“I am! We’re taking our grandchildren and our children on a Walt Disney World experience in Orlando, Florida. I’m really looking forward to this, even though some people might think that going to Disney World with five grandchildren under seven years of age might not be the most fun – but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Her final words, as Superintendent
“The children here have the opportunity to learn a lot of things, and have gone on to be productive members of society. I’ve enjoyed really working with them to make sure that that happens.
“The staff at David Douglas is – well, phenomenal. They’re dedicated to making sure that every child achieves their potential. They try to work with their children in a variety of ways to make sure that they get the kinds of opportunities they need to go on and do great things. I am excited that I’ve had this opportunity.
“We talk of David Douglas as being a family, and I certainly think our people are not here just because it brings a paycheck, but because they want to work with other people who have similar goals and want to make a difference.
“I think that the David Douglas community is a good place to learn, a great place to work, and a great place to live. It takes a lot of people, working hard, to make that true. We offer our students such a wide variety of opportunities, and I’m really proud we’re able to do just that.
“It has certainly been my pleasure to be part of the David Douglas community for all these years.”
© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News