New David Douglas Principal challenges staff and students to excel

John Bier says he’s ready to run a school that serves more students than the entire population of his hometown. See what changes he plans – and what will stay the same – at the home of the Scots …

Although John Bier is David Douglas High School’s new Principal, he’s not new to the school – he joined the Scots’ staff in 1990.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Whether or not they know it, the 850 freshmen gathering in the David Douglas High School (DDHS) gymnasium on orientation day, September 2, had something in common with John Bier (as he went on to explain).

The 9th graders were starting their high school career; Bier was starting in his new role as principal of one of the area’s largest schools.

As we sat in the newly-rearranged Principal’s office at DDHS – one business day before school started – Bier told about his background, his most important duties, and how he hopes to be remembered.

“The school is twice as big as the total population of my home town,” Bier began. “The faculty and staff here at David Douglas number more than the entire high school population where I grew up – in Heppner, Oregon.”

‘Hooked’ on David Douglas
Bier says he started his career, now spanning 23 years, as an educator in Prineville, then in Molalla, as a teacher and sports coach.

Then, during the ’89-’90 school year, Bier came to David Douglas. “I clearly remember the Principal, Ray Utz, telling me when I was hired, ‘David Douglas is a special place. You may think you’re only going to be here for a couple of years and then move on. But the school is going to get its hooks into you, and you’ll be here for awhile.’ I thought to myself, ‘Sure, right! …’ But, here I am, 19 years later, having served as an administrator, attendance coordinator, biology teacher, football coach.”

Bier says his job is to facilitate teachers’ stepping out of their “comfort zone” when developing new ways to help their students learn.

Questions and answers

Q Have you gone to “principal school”?

A “I’ve taken 18 extra credits of advanced education in school administration. I’m a lifelong learner.”

Q What do you see as your chief tasks as Principal?

A “Keeping up to date on current developments in education, and helping our teachers keep abreast of those trends. Also, it’s affirming what our teachers are doing, and helping to remove obstacles so they can do their job better.”

The new Principal of Portland’s largest high school, John Bier, says the greatest asset of David Douglas is their teachers.

Q Is there a specific educational concept on which you’re asking teachers to focus this year?

A “It’s being willing to take good risks. Teachers ask students to ‘take risks’ every day – to step forward, out of their ‘comfort zone’. As educators, we need to show our kids we, too, are willing to take risks, and try new strategies in the classroom. It’s okay for them to be upfront and tell the students that they’re trying something new – and then, at the end of the class, to ask them if they connected with it and learned from it.”

Q What might “taking a risk” be like?

A “A risk might be for a teacher to ask another instructor in the same subject to audit their class and give them feedback. Another would be sitting down with several teachers of the same subject, to build a new educational unit together, test it in the classroom, and compare the results.”

Banners like these, posted around the school, remind students that “Scots’ Pride” is demonstrated by their positive behaviors.

Q Are you instituting any new school-wide programs this year?

A “Yes, and we call it ‘Scots’ Pride’. We’re explicitly teaching our students positive behaviors, so they’ll know what’s expected of them when they’re in the classroom, in the lunchroom, or walking down the halls. Part of this is active positive behavior support – catching kids doing the ‘right thing’ and letting them know about it. We believe it will help make a positive shift in our school’s culture.”

Q Have you introduced new ways for parents to become more involved with the school?

A “We appreciate the support we get from parents in our athletics and arts programs. And, we’re exploring new ways for a wider variety of community members to get involved with David Douglas.”

Q On what assets do you hope to build?

A David Douglas has got a long tradition of excellence in academics and the arts, of which I’m fully aware. Without hesitation, I say that we have the finest teaching staff in the State of Oregon which works in an atmosphere in which they can thrive. With this, there’s no limit to where we can go with our kids.”

Turf’s up! Bier told us to take a look at the new sports playing surface at Palermini Stadium. There we found the soccer team performing scrimmages.

Q You will, inevitably, be compared to past Principals John Herrington and Randy Hutchinson …

A “From Ray Utz – the man who hired me – there is a real legacy of outstanding Principals at here David Douglas. I have my own style; my own thoughts about the school’s administration. I think I’ve got a good grasp of what it takes to continue our tradition of excellence. In ten years, I hope my name will be spoken in the same sentence as theirs.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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