Walking into Kings Valley Charter School, the first thing a visitor sees is a row of desks jammed together with busy people working behind them.
There are no private offices or mahogany desks with family photos carefully arranged on them. The “Principal’s Office” is just another desk, donated by a community member and sandwiched between the window and an assistant’s desk. Volunteers bustle around the office area, each with a specific role to play in the small rural community school, but none too busy to give a warm welcome.
Leader of this industrious pack is Mark Hazelton, the occupant of the “Principal’s Office” over by the window. In talking to Mark, it doesn’t take long to realize that he is unusually dedicated to the school and its students’ success. How many school principals can boast that they know all of the students, their parents and their grandparents, as well as their test scores, eccentricities and just about everything about them?
Mark Hazelton, in his eighth year as executive director of the Kings Valley Charter School, can make this assertion.
Mark and his wife, Evelyn Hukari, have lived in Kings Valley since 1998, when they moved down from Cornelius after buying her grandparents’ home up the Luckiamute River.
Shortly after their move, the Philomath School District decided to close the Kings Valley School. Although he was a relative newcomer to the area, Mark, then serving as treasurer of the Kings Valley Area Association, got on board the movement to open a charter school in the same facility.
In 2001, this team of energized local citizens was successful in getting the charter for an elementary school. It was not too hard to find dedicated teachers who were willing to work for short pay in order to teach smaller numbers of students. It was harder to find principals willing to do so. After several principals had been lured away by higher-paying jobs, there was another vacancy and no one applying to fill the position.
Mark, who had by that time quit his engineering job with Hewlett-Packard Co., and who was staying at home with two young children, Nick and Olivia, decided to put in a low bid. It was accepted, and he was hired in 2004 as executive director. He had managed engineers for years and figured that managing teachers wouldn’t be too different.
He was lucky enough to have a staff that is very self-directed and a school board that is visionary and supportive.
Not long after he assumed the directorship, it became evident that some students wanted to stay in the charter school environment so the curriculum was expanded to include middle school.
Most recently, the expansion has gradually included high school. Under Mark and the board’s direction, the fledgling high school now has 32 students in ninth through 12th grades who are taking a rigorous Advanced Placement curriculum. Last year, the school offered AP English Literature, AP Physics and AP Biology besides core classes. This year the school is offering AP Biology, AP English Language and AP Environmental Science.
Adding middle — and especially high school — has been a challenge. Along with the ambitious academic program, the school tries to provide plenty of enrichment and extracurricular activities to keep the students engaged. Trips to Crater Lake, Mount St. Helens, the Oregon Coast, the Columbia Gorge, along with a variety of service projects augment their studies and provide bonding experiences for the students. KVCS has partnered with another small high school in Falls City for sports (football, basketball and volleyball), a homecoming dance and an upcoming prom.
This year will be Kings Valley Charter School’s first graduating class.
Hazelton has embraced all the dramatic changes that have taken place since he has applied for the principal position at a small elementary school.
Right now the K-12 school is at capacity with 185 students and has a waiting list of 28 more.
What makes KVCS so special, besides a staff and school board willing to adapt to change, is the individualized attention that the students get from extremely dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers, teachers and executive director. Mark is like a shepherd with his flock — he knows all of the students personally and will try to bring those who stray back to the fold. As a friend and neighbor, he has a vested interest in the education of all of his students.
He said this can only be done at a small school such as KVCS, but he is delighted to be part of the energetic, devoted, community-minded group that has made this charter school a success.
Nashville resident Kathi Downing can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 456-4252.