Philomath High School’s new principal, Mark Henderson, prefers a smaller, tight campus where he can get to know students and staff. It’s a part of the job that he’s been missing over the past decade at larger schools and magnified over the past two years because of COVID.
“It’s been really difficult to develop strong relationships with kids and teachers,” Henderson said Friday a few hours after the Philomath School District announced his hiring to staff. “Being in Philomath is going to allow me to know all of the teachers and all of the students and on a much-deeper level than I would at a school of 1,600 where I was in Washington.”
Henderson will begin the job on July 1 and take over for Brent Belveal, who was brought on as an interim principal late last year when the district reassigned Mike Bussard to other duties within the district.
Henderson, 57, will be coming to Philomath from Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, where he’s served as assistant principal and athletic director for the past three years. He’s also been in the role of Corvallis Online principal.
Henderson said he jumped on the opportunity to apply for the job when Philomath advertised the opening.
“I’ve been at large schools the last 10 years — seven up at a big school in Monroe, Washington, and then the last three here at Crescent Valley,” Henderson said. “What I’ve always wanted to be a part of is a small school in a small town and that the school was the pride and focal point of the community.”
Henderson said it’s been difficult to find that preferred small-school situation with his career in education “because that usually takes you to rural areas and that just won’t work for my wife’s career” but the Corvallis-Philomath area provided that opportunity.
“We want to ensure we hire candidates who bring instructional leadership, expertise and a heart for students and staff to work in our schools,” Superintendent Susan Halliday said of the district’s hire. “We look forward to Mr. Henderson’s energy and commitment to Philomath.”
Henderson met with PHS faculty Friday afternoon.
“My focus going into next year at this point is really to come in as a learner,” he said. “A simplified version of my job is taking care of the faculty and supporting the faculty so that they in turn will then support and nurture the kids. But in order to support them, I need to know them.”
Henderson added, “And so, at least the first half of the year next year is going to be devoted to just getting to know people, getting to know kids, getting to know the community and really finding out what makes Philomath High School special.”
Henderson grew up in Washington state at Vashon, a small island in Puget Sound, and attended high school that was similar in size to Philomath. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s in educational leadership from City University in Bellevue, Washington.
Henderson’s career in education has included stops at The Orme School, a private boarding school in rural Yavapai County, Arizona, along with several positions in his home state — SeaTac, Vashon Island, Yakima, Seattle and Monroe.
In addition to his career in education, Henderson also served in the U.S. Navy for a little more than eight years. When 9/11 occurred, Henderson was in the Naval Reserves and was recalled to active duty at the time for another eight months.
The road to the Philomath job occurred in fairly quick fashion once the interview occurred.
“I interviewed last Friday and that consisted of a good hour-long interview with staff and another 15-minute interview with a panel of students, which was pretty cool,” he said. “Then they called me on Tuesday to offer me the position.”
Education as a whole has seen its share of challenges over the past couple of years because of the pandemic. Teachers in all areas of the country have chosen to transition into other professions, others have retired early and recruitment has seen better days. Philomath has not been immune from such issues. Schools have also seen drops in enrollment, another trend that’s been seen on the local campus.
“You know, there are always challenges and you’ve just got to roll with it,” Henderson said. “I’m going to take the challenges head on and we’re going to do the best we possibly can do but you work with what you’ve got.”