Erika Bare loved her job as an administrator in the Medford School District and had no intention of leaving.
Then one day in the fall of 2011, her class at Southern Oregon University, where she was studying for her administrative license, welcomed a guest speaker whose approach to education complicated Bare’s plans. It was Ashland High principal Michelle Zundel.
Listening to Zundel, Bare made a crucial decision in her mind. “If I ever get an opportunity to work with and be mentored by Michelle Zundel,” she thought, “I’ll have to really look at that opportunity.”
Only months later, in the spring of 2012, an opportunity did come up, Bare seized it and now she’s in the final stages of a transition that will end with her taking over for Zundel and becoming one of the district’s three new principals for the 2015-16 school year.
“I have had the great fortune of learning from (Zundel) and she has been an invaluable resource,” said Bare, who’s been the assistant principal at AHS for the past three years. “There’s been a lot of transferring of information as well as lots of words of wisdom, but really she’s been a tremendous coach and mentor for the past three years.”
Bare has agreed to be the interim principal at Ashland High while the district considers other possible long-term solutions which may or may not include a principal. Elsewhere in the district, fifth-grade teacher Michelle Cuddeback will replace Glenna Stiles as principal at Helman Elementary, and Ashland Middle School assistant principal Tiffany Burns will replace Patty Michiels as principal at Walker Elementary.
Stiles is leaving Helman to take a counseling position at the high school, and Michiels will also remain in the district as the director of education and human resources.
Bare, 37, said Zundel has been a great mentor who has helped prepare Bare for what’s to come. Zundel, who’s been the AHS principal for five years and an Ashland School District administrator for 20, leaves July 1 to take over as the chief academic officer in Medford.
Bare says there’s a lot to learn, but is excited about what’s next.
“Right now, I’m spending a lot of time working with (Zundel) to make sure it’s a really smooth transition … so I can understand all the pieces of her work,” she said. “I’m meeting with a lot of folks and different stakeholders, learning what’s needed at the high school and what’s going well, and how to serve as a leader to make everybody’s job a little easier.”
For now, Bare doesn’t expect to serve as interim principal beyond the 2015-16 school year. A long-term solution, in fact, may not even include a principal at the high school. When asked about replacing Zundel, ASD Superintendent Jay Hummel said the district will “explore alternative leadership structures” before deciding whether to conduct a national search.
That’s fine by Bare, who’s happy to help but also thoroughly enjoyed her role as assistant principal.
“When I agreed to take the interim position, I agreed to do it for one year,” she said. “And part of why I agreed to do it was because there’s a strong interest both on the part of myself and the superintendent in how we view teacher leadership and leadership in general, and how can we examine that and make sure that we’re doing things in the most efficient way possible. We’ve got lots of teachers who want to look at that with me, and that’s a primary focus. The high school is in no way broken. There’s no giant, ‘We’ve got to take care of this.’ It’s really about the continual improvement that we’re always working on.”
When asked whether or not she would throw her hat in the ring should the district decide to hire another principal, Bare couldn’t say.
“I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about that right now,” she said. “At this point, I don’t see myself wanting to do it long term, but who knows what the future holds. If I do, I’ll be competing against a lot of people. But really, I like my current job.
“It was a decision made in service. I want to make sure that whatever we have as a leadership structure that we have time to be thoughtful about that and are serving our students in the best possible way.”
Cuddeback, 39, began her teaching career at Helman before moving on to Lincoln before it closed and Willow Wind Community Learning Center. She returned to Helman in 2004 and has been there ever since.
Cuddeback has spent most of her career teaching third, fourth and fifth grade. She earned her administration license in 2013 and worked as a teacher on special assignment during the 2013-14 school year. “My main job,” she said, “was facilitating and implementing the teacher evaluation and professional growth system.”
Cuddeback is looking forward to the challenge and is pleased to be staying at Helman.
“Helman is dear to my heart,” she said. “I did interview for other positions but I didn’t feel like I was ready to leave, so it’s really, really special that I got this opportunity and I’m really excited.”
Burns, 34, has been the assistant principal at Ashland Middle School for two years following a year-long stint at John Muir School. She has taught at every level, from elementary to college and everything in between in Oregon, Mexico and Alaska.
Leaving the middle school was not an easy decision for Burns, who described AMS as the best place she’s ever worked. Now that she’s made the decision, however, she’s looking forward to turning her attention back to the age group that attracted her to the profession in the first place.
“That staff (at Walker) is so friendly and exciting and it’s such an inviting environment that I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this,’” she said. “I love elementary school. That’s where I started out, that’s where my roots in education are. It’s such an incredible opportunity because you get to build the foundation and you get them for six years.”
When Hummel called to offer Burns the job two weeks ago, she was dumbstruck, responding only, “OK.”
After Hummel followed up, explaining that he needed a yes or a no, Burns said, “You can’t see my face, but I’m smiling enormously.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.