Interview with Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe | Chalkboard Project

Interview with Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe

Monday, May 6, 2019 Communications Team

Pictured above: The Umatilla Robotics Team in Texas. Heidi traveled with the team to the Robotics World Finals in Houston, Texas last month.

I recently spoke with Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe. Heidi was named 2016 Oregon Superintendent of the Year and it is clear why she was given this honor. She has a deep respect for her students and community and works every day to find ways to positively impact their school experience.

Hi Heidi! You are the superintendent of Umatilla School District.  Can you tell me a little about your community?

Our K-12 student population is just under 1,400 students. We have a unique situation in our school district because the overall Umatilla community lives within a very different financial status than a majority of our student population. Our community includes a lot of retirees, who have comfortable income while a majority of our students experience poverty. In fact, 100% of our K-12 population eats free meals at school. While many of our students and their families do not have a lot of financial resources, they all work very hard and are extremely supportive of our schools.

There has been a lot of excitement about the Student Success Act. What are you most excited about if the Student Success Act becomes a reality?

So many things! I became a superintendent in Umatilla in 2007 and for past 12 years, the only thing I have known is budget cuts. I have had a couple of years of sustained funding and no cuts but this will be the first opportunity to really consider what we could add to our system to better serve students. In the past, we worked really hard to maintain smaller class sizes but this meant we had to sacrifice administrative positions. With possible additional funds from the Student Success Act, we would be able to shift our current Dean of Students to a high school Vice Principal position and potentially add a professional development and learning coordinator. We would still maintain our small class sizes in our elementary school in the lower grades but we would also get to lower the class sizes in upper elementary, middle and high school. With excitement growing about increased funding for our district, we have also been hosting community meetings and conducting surveys and gathering input from our classified union, certified union, administrative team, and school board to find out what our students and families need. On May 8th, we’re hosting a Walk in Their Shoes day where community members will get to experience a school day and give us feedback about the needs they see in our system so we can use their suggestions in our final budget work.

Grant money would be distributed using the same formula as the State School Fund but with double the weight for students in poverty. How would this help your district?

I am thankful that the double poverty weight acknowledges there is a greater need for investment and support for students living in poverty. There are still some challenges in the way the state calculates poverty in our community but I believe this is a great start.

The Student Success Act has a statewide equity plan contained within it. Your district has a large Latinx and Native American population, how would this equity plan help your students?

I love that there is such a focus on equity in the Plan. Umatilla has the second highest percentage of English language learners (ELL) in the state and 74% minority student population. The equity supports will require all school districts to have purposeful intention for each and every student which will improve student outcomes, student safety, and inclusion.

You and your husband help with the Umatilla robotics team and recently took a road trip to Texas for the national competition.

Yes! Our team made it to the world finals for the 6th time in their 8-year history as a team, I am so proud of them.

Did you eat any good Texas BBQ on the road?

(Laughs) Sort of. When you are traveling on the road in a yellow school bus, with 31 students, it is really hard to find restaurants that can accommodate your group on a moment’s notice. We did get two students to enter the Big Texan Steak Eating contest in Amarillo. While they didn’t succeed, we enjoyed watching them try. We also stopped for fry bread while traveling through the Navajo Nation. It’s all about the experience. When we were in Texas we tried to eat BBQ so many different nights but couldn’t pull it off. Our students finally got to enjoy great Texas BBQ when were on our way home in New Mexico of all places!

Thank you Heidi!

  • School Leadership
  • Student Success
  • School Finance

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