“Math was always my hardest subject,“ admits Cassandra Thonstad. As a student she got good grades, but that didn’t make her a good learner. That’s why math was tough: “I couldn’t fake my way through.”
When she got to college at the University of Oregon she learned to “struggle productively and persevere,” she says, and went on to earn her master’s degrees in both mathematics and education.
As an instructional facilitator at Chehalem Valley Middle School in the Newberg Public Schools, she is first and foremost a learner. She says, “When you’re done learning, you need to be done teaching.”
To take her growth to the next level, she enrolled in the inaugural cohort of Chalkboard’s Aspiring Leaders program through Portland State University*, where she is gaining the expertise and experience to become a school administrator. The program is part of Chalkboard’s Leading for Learning initiative, which supports new and current school administrators to become more effective leaders for educational excellence and equity in their districts.
Through the program, Thonstad spends half her workweek taking on administrative duties at the middle school and serves as a substitute principal and assistant principal K-12. “I’m having tough conversations with students, taking parent calls, doing teacher observations,” she says. “I get to experience what it means to be an administrator. I know I can make a difference.”
She credits the program for sharpening her perspective on equity and education. “Having an equity committee or an equity statement isn’t enough,” she says. “Being part of the program really re-emphasized that equity is the most important lens we need to have, and that’s been really empowering.’
Thonstad started her career teaching math and serving as an instructional coach at Milwaukie High in the North Clackamas District and Newberg High before taking her current post as a STEM instructional facilitator.
She had strong connections to Chalkboard even before being chosen for Aspiring Leaders. She is a member of Chalkboard’s Distinguished Educators Council, which advises the organization on an array of issues, and works with TeachOregon as the Newberg site coordinator and a cooperating teacher for teacher-candidates completing their training.
Thonstad is a proponent of “servant leadership,” a philosophy that values selflessness and trust, rather than power, as the foundation of leadership. She considers effective communication—preferably in face-to-face conversations, rather than relying on email—the key to maintaining trust through tough times.
“You have to build a culture of learning and continuous improvement,” she says. “Things aren’t always going to go smoothly, but sometimes you have to stick through things even if they’re not working just yet.”
She hopes to be an assistant principal next year and won’t rule out rising to a superintendent position in the future. “I’m ready and excited to take the next step,” she says. “I can’t wait to start.”
*Note: The Aspiring Leaders Program is a partnership between Chalkboard Project, the Oregon Department of Education, and two preliminary administrative licensure programs, Portland State University and COSA Leads. Cassandra Thonstad is a participant in the program at Portland State University.
- School Leadership
- Equity and Diversity