Lisa Riggs is eager to start the school year as the new Sweet Home School District superintendent. She started her position Aug. 17, succeeding Tom Yahreas, who stepped down because he wanted to spend more time with his family.
“It is the smallest district that I've worked for, but it just seemed to have a great fit,” Riggs said. “It reminds me of my hometown. And what I think is special to that is that I am a product of that school district and so I feel as though I knew the systems and knew the town.”
Riggs hails from Port Angeles, Washington, and she began her career there as a language arts and writing teacher. She then worked as an administrator for the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada, and then in the San Antonio Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. She most recently worked as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Gresham Barlow School District.
Her main goal for the school year, which started Tuesday, is simply to start on time with in-person learning. She emphasized the importance of adjusting to the needs of students, given how challenging it is to make plans in the middle of the pandemic.
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“Some primary goals are just to make sure that we can safely start school in the district using our great facilities, participating in that social interaction that our kids need, very much so, and just reminding everyone that learning is social,” Riggs said. “We really do have that opportunity if we can safely return.”
She also wants to focus on making sure everyone who is eligible for vaccination gets vaccinated so that things can get back to normal as soon as possible.
As far as long-term plans go, Riggs plans to implement the goals outlined in the strategic plan the school district established for 2018-2023. The goals focus on outstanding achievement, how to become a thriving citizen in a thriving community and creating safe and welcoming facilities and services.
“It's my job to see what's working well and celebrate those successes and find the tools that are necessary to make those improvements,” Riggs said. “I'm trying to get up to speed to make sure that I'm not the one to slow that down. Transition sometimes causes anxiety or a lull or a gap. And we just can't afford that right now.”
While the district hopes to return to primarily in-person activities, there are some hybrid options that Riggs plans to keep on hand even after the pandemic ends. For example, school board members have appreciated the option to join meetings from home or in person based on what aligns with their schedules and personal preferences.
“What we're doing is we're utilizing the technology that we advanced rapidly and getting internet access for our students that had struggled in the past,” Riggs said. “That was managed and we want to keep those innovations going forever, no matter where a student is.”
Eighteen months is a long time to be away from traditional social settings, and Riggs said she hopes to reinvent the comfort and environment that students experienced before the pandemic. Pre-pandemic kindergarten students are now entering second grade, and pre-pandemic freshmen are now upperclassmen without actually having experienced high school.
“We're really, obviously focused on relationships and how our students are feeling,” Riggs said. “But what's great is I get to start building my relationships at the same time as people are recovering theirs.”
Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_.