Philomath High School's exterior
The Philomath School District hopes to have a new high school principal in place by the end of April. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Following the reassignment of Mike Bussard last fall and then bringing in former administrator Brent Belveal out of retirement to serve in an interim role, the Philomath School District is currently working on hiring a new high school principal.

Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday hopes to see a new principal hired by the end of this month.

The screening of candidates will begin next week to determine who will be invited for interviews. The school district started advertising the position in early March and as of Friday, Halliday said 15 applications had been received (none of those from local candidates).

“We put it out there relatively early because we wanted to be able to draw as many possible applicants as we could,” Halliday said. “This is the time … we’ve got some retirements and things this year from some different teaching positions and other things and so we’re trying to make sure that we get the word out early to try and get our best possible candidates in a pool.”

Halliday emphasized the importance of hiring someone by the end of April.

“That’s an absolute ‘no later’ because we’d like to be able to make the determination and know who we’re going to have coming into some summertime preparation, some overlap, things like that,” she said.

Philomath’s salary range for the position runs from $105,000 to $128,000 per year, depending on years of experience.

“High school principals and superintendents are two of the big hiring areas in the state,” Halliday said. “I think I heard this morning in a meeting that there are 46 superintendent offerings currently open in Oregon and high school principals are tough to find … and then we’ve got some teaching positions where it’s just difficult to be able to find people who want to apply.”

The school district has a hiring committee in place to assist with the process. Halliday said PHS teachers were invited to be involved.

“They will either be paper screeners or interview committee members,” Halliday said. “A lot of that depends on how many volunteers we’ve got but we want to involve as many people who have an interest as possible.”

The district had implemented an administrative team at the high school that consisted of a principal and two assistant principals. After one of the assistant principals moved on, the vacancy was never filled. Currently, Belveal is the interim principal, Tony Matta is the assistant principal and Denee Newton is the dean of students.

However, Halliday said dean of students was not meant to be a long-term position and as such, a second assistant principal will be brought in to return to the previous administrative structure.

Beyond high school principal, the district is also trying to fill its vacant special programs director position. Krista McGuyer left in 2021 for the Greater Albany Public Schools district and Don Dorman has been filling in this academic year.

The next principal will be the high school’s eighth since 2000. Nels Thompson served in the position from 1987 to 2000 and then again in an interim role for the 2003-04 academic year. Joane Eby was in the job from 2000-03, Kent Sherwood from 2004-08, Ken Ball from 2008-16, Brian Flannery from 2016-18, Bussard from 2018-21 and Belveal as the interim since December.

Bussard’s departure from the position last fall was never fully explained publicly by the school district.

“I can’t talk about personnel issues,” Halliday said when asked to share why the change at principal had been made. “Mr. Bussard is working with us at a district level and doing some things that we need done there.”

In this new position, Halliday said Bussard, who works mostly off-site virtually, has been working on Title IX process and protocols, the district staff handbook and policy revisions. In addition, she said he’s been involved with the “melding of some state initiatives that he will play a role in” to bring those things together.

Belveal was asked to come back for a second year.

“He’s been a real big asset to the school and to the district and I know there would be people who would love to have him stay,” Halliday said. “But the other part is he wants to spend time with his wife and kids and grandkids and start doing some of those things that they’ve been waiting to be able to do. He doesn’t want to lock himself in to more down the line. But it’s been great to have him.”

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.