David Douglas High Principal Bier retires

Discover the changes he’s been seeing in education, as he’s led this outer East Portland high school for the past 13 years …

In the Hazelwood neighborhood, David Douglas High School Principal John Bier heads into his campus – near the end of his time as the school’s leader.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

As we sat down in his office in late June, David Douglas High School (DDHS) Principal John Bier mused how quickly 13 years seemed to have passed, since he gave his first interview to us at East Portland News – then, as the newly-named DDHS Principal.

>> To see that 2008 interview, CLICK HERE.

“Indeed, this concludes my 13th year as DDHS Principal – marking my 31 years in the David Douglas School District; and 35 years in education overall,” Bier began.

“So, I’m leaving on ‘lucky year number 13’!” Bier quipped.

Sitting at the desk where he’s worked for 13 years, DDHS’s John Bier contemplates what being Principal of this school means to him.

Asked to describe the arc of changes he’s seen in the outer East Portland neighborhoods DDHS serves, and here in the school, Bier responded, “Well, that’s a really good question.

“I can tell you that the job is not nearly the same as it was when I began here. I think there is a lot more stress; a lot more politics in education, overall, than there used to be – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“When I first began, we were not only an educational organization, but also to some degree a social institution,” Bier continued. “I think we’ve become even more a vehicle for social causes.  With our diverse student body, this is especially true – and that’s a good thing!”

John Bier sings and dances, cast as one of the Shriners (second from left), in this 2008 DDHS Theater Department production of Bye Bye Birdie. East Portland News archive image

A large, and diverse school
The school has maintained the same diversity among its 3,000 students past and present. “However, the scope of education certainly has changed,” Bier conceded. “Now in the school, there is much more emphasis on the academic areas; but also, on a lot of ‘social justice’ issues have become more prevalent in education, which I see this is a good thing.

“We are graduating students who are not only academically prepared, but are also more prepared in terms of how they view the world socially and their place in the world,” pointed out Bier.

“It’s also helped to solidify their understanding – not only of their own culture, but also the culture of other students who are here. David Douglas is unique, from that standpoint; there are so many different languages spoken in our community, and so many different cultures represented, it’s a good opportunity for kids to learn about other communities or other cultures exist in the world.”

DDHS Principal John Bier welcomed guests in 2010 to a Town Hall held at the school by US Senator Ron WydenEast Portland News archive image

DDHS, as a cultural microcosm
“I always see David Douglas as a model of how the world should – should – be; with all these people from many diverse cultures together, and doing very well that way,” expanded Bier. “You watch our students – in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and in the common areas, and moving up and down the hallways.  They do extremely well together. When you have 3,000 teenagers together in one campus, there are some issues that are bound to come up.  But, by and large, it’s a very beautiful place to be.”

Bier recalled when then-Portland Mayor Charlie Hales served as “Principal for a Day” at DDHS when he was in office. “After spending time in our classrooms, and in the hall during the second lunch period, he asked me, ‘How do you do this? How does this culture get created here in this school?’”

He recalled replying to Mayor Hales, “I think that it’s our staff and our students who have fostered this culture; that is, while we’re all her for academic purposes, it’s also important that we learn about each other, and how to relate to one another.”

Before the Portland Rose Festival DDHS Princess announcement in 2017, Principal Bier speaks with a staff memberEast Portland News archive image

Shifts in school statistics
“Statistically speaking,” Bier observed, “In 2008 DDHS had a higher number of students on free and reduced lunch programs than most area schools – about 70% or so. Now, we’re down to between 50% and 60% needing the meal program.

“However out graduation rate, when I first started as Principal, was in the area of about 65%; and now, it’s near 85%.”

Bier attributed this increase to two things:

Being very intentional about hiring staff. “And also, the staff who have been here are excellent in developing relationships with students. The old saying that you can’t teach anybody anything until you first show them how much you care about them – that is something is really important to us here.”

Expanding programs and opportunities. “We have 11 career pathways here that the students can get involved in. We also have multiple courses for which kids can get college credit – in addition to Advanced Placement programs. Even more, we also have more than 20 clubs in which kids can get involved after school, which also provide good connections.”

Parents of students have also been helpful in DDHS’ increased graduation rates, Bier said. “Our parents are both supportive of their children, and supportive of what we’ve done here as a school. I’m so pleased that we get a great deal of positive feedback on that.”

Discusses his future plans
“What am I going to do after I retire? In the month of July, I am going to rest. I’ll be really honest with you: I’ve worked hard for the last 13 years, and have never had the opportunity to just rest and relax. As the COVID-19 travel restrictions ease, I’ll travel. And, for fun, I’d like to do a lot of fishing. I used to enjoy fly-fishing, and I’d like to spend more time in nature.

“Beyond that, I do want to stay involved with the DDHS community,” he reflected. “My goal is to stay involved with the community in some way. We live in East Multnomah County, so I live close enough to be engaged here, in some way, with the school.”

Expresses his gratitude, to many
“Let me tell you, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve this community,” smiled Bier as concluded the interview.

“I thank our parents for entrusting their children to us; for their support of what we’re doing, for understanding our mission, and for knowing that we’re doing the best we can for their children, in terms of providing the best academic education that equips them to pursue anything they want and to be good citizens.”

Seen here in an early rehearsal of the 2018 DDHS Theater Department’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Principal John Bier portrayed a police officer booking a suspectEast Portland News archive image

As for his thoughts regarding the DDHS staff, both current and past, Bier confided, “I don’t know if I can talk about this without becoming emotional. I’m so proud of my staff; I don’t think of myself as ‘the boss’, but as their ‘head coach’ – and they are the ‘winning team’ dedicated to our students. Our staff members are some of the most creative, creative, competent people that you could possibly imagine. Again, I’m privileged to have been that person who is out in front – advocating for them. I appreciate their support and love. I’ve needed them to know that I care about them, and I just love them. They are awesome people.”

Since DDHS is a community supported school, Bier added. “There a lot of people who no longer have students here, or who are just neighbors, who turn out to support David Douglas in any number of ways.  And, as you know, there is quite a following for our theater, music, and sports here. That’s the strength of the David Douglas community.”

Bier concluded, “I appreciate that the school district had the confidence to put me in this position of being Principal. I’ve tried to never take this job for granted. I tried to do the very best I can to be ‘the face’ of David Douglas. Wherever I go I’m proud to say that I’ve been the Principal of David Douglas high school.”

Meet new DDHS Principal Gregory Carradine

In late June, 2021, outgoing DDHS Principal John Bier spent a few minutes with the person who will now occupy that office as the 2021-22 school year starts, incoming Principal Gregory Carradine.

That day, we were also fortunate to meet incoming DDHS Principal Gregory Carradine, who reported that he’s been with the David Douglas Schools for 24 years, in the various capacities of Athletic Director, Attendance Coordinator, classroom instructor, automotive teacher, electronics teacher, and Division Chairperson.

“I’m looking forward to coming here in the fall, and interacting with our kids,” Carradine told East Portland News. “What makes David Douglas High School special to me is that our students are eager to learn.  It’s great to see them gaining knowledge from the teachers we have and the programs we offer.”

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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