Oregon Governor Tina Kotek speaks to a group of 23 students during a visit Thursday to Philomath High School. (Photo provided by Mark Henderson/Philomath High School)

Less than 11 weeks into her administration, Governor Tina Kotek paid a visit Thursday morning to Philomath High School to learn more about the small school’s exemplary career and technical education program.

The governor recently published a list of education-related priorities, including to “accelerate career and technical education program growth so more students graduate with pathways to well-paying jobs.”

One of Philomath’s CTE students that had been chosen to participate shared a comment that seems to fit Kotek’s vision.

“One student talked about how when they walk into the shop, it’s a job and they need to be on time, they do the work together, they need to follow directions — skills they’re going to need anywhere they go in life,” PHS Principal Mark Henderson said.

Philomath High School’s CTE program features five study options — industrial engineering, forestry/natural resources, business management, culinary arts and health occupations. The program is considered comprehensive for a campus of Philomath’s size.

“She wanted to hear kids’ experiences, so we chose kids from a cross-section of all of those programs to be a part of it,” Henderson said. “I think we ended up with 23 students that participated.”

Kotek asked questions that revolved around what they liked most about the five programs.

“They talked about how it’s affected them and possibly changed their career path — skills that were developed in those programs,” Henderson said.

Kotek also asked students what they would like her to do, Henderson said.

“More funding was definitely brought up,” he said.

In addition, Henderson said a couple of students stood up for the forestry industry and expressed “the concern taking place right now between the conservationists and the timber industry.”

Said Henderson of the students, “They handled themselves really professionally, very mature and they spoke well. The governor had nothing but great things to say about them.”

After interacting with the CTE students, Kotek then met with selected Philomath School District administrators and department heads which in addition to Henderson and CTE Coordinator Jessica Hanson included the school superintendent, an assistant high school principal, middle school principal, board member and the district’s business manager.

“A lot of it centered around the need for more funding for our schools,” Henderson said about the discussion. “She wanted to know some things in particular that we’d love to see and we talked about more mental health support in schools and talked about free lunch for all, which we had during the pandemic and has gone away.”

Former Philomath school superintendent Melissa Goff, who serves as Kotek education adviser, was not on the visit.

It’s the second time in recent years that a governor has visited Philomath specifically to learn more about its CTE offerings. Kate Brown visited in June 2015 and met with manufacturing technology staff and students.

So why did Kotek choose to visit Philomath High? Henderson said he asked the governor’s events coordinator.

“It turns out that there is some link on their website that you can provide feedback on about where’d you like to see the governor visit,” he said, “and somebody from the community said, ‘hey, you need to take a look at Philomath’s CTE programs.”

The governor’s office approached the visit to Philomath in a secretive manner with Henderson asked to tell selected CTE staff and students leading into Thursday only that they would be sharing their experiences with a government official.

“I told them this morning when they got to the room,” Henderson said. “I did send an email to staff this morning ahead of time saying ‘hey, the governor’s going to be here today, your kids need to be out of class at such and such time.’”

In addition to the visit to PHS, Kotek also reportedly had breakfast at The Dizzy Hen.

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.