SUHS ag teacher cultivates burgeoning program

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When Katie Partlow arrived on campus to prepare for her new job as South Umpqua High School’s agriculture/science teacher, there wasn’t an ag textbook in the classroom or a poster on the wall.  

A 15-foot-by-24-foot greenhouse built by students in the 1970s was almost the sole tool to launch a new ag program. Looking back nearly two years later, Partlow puts a positive spin on the memory. “There was a lot of room for growth,” she says.  

Under Partlow’s stewardship, the SUHS ag program has gone from a sprout to a flowering orchard. Solid community partnerships, thriving fundraisers and full-bloom student enthusiasm have added to the new program’s success. They’ve also contributed to a national scholarship award for Partlow.

She was named this spring as the Oregon participant for the Teachers Turn the Key program. Its scholarships are offered by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. As part of her award, Partlow will travel to the NAAE national convention in November in Las Vegas.

SUHS Principal Kristi McGee cited Partlow’s many qualifications in the letter she wrote recommending her for the scholarship.  

McGee’s letter described how Partlow came to SUHS, a school with no existing ago or FFA program and no body of knowledge upon which to draw, and how Partlow met that challenge.  

“During Katie’s time we have planted an orchard, built outbuildings and started an animal husbandry program, begun a wildly successful Christmas wreath fundraiser, and implemented ag, ag business, ag biology, forestry and vet science classes,” McGee wrote. “Our FFA chapter is growing every day, and our students are passionate, excited and gaining skills and confidence through FFA activities.”

Much of Partlow’s own enthusiasm about the program is fueled by the gains she sees her students make in ag classes and competitions. She’s seen student participation grow from 15 or 20 students in her first year at SUHS to nearly 40 in six classes.

“Coming in, so many students think FFA and ag are just about showing animals,” she said. “I had to break that stereotype and show them it’s about public speaking, and leadership, and business. The scope of ag is so diverse.”

So is Partlow’s background. A 2008 graduate of Oregon State University – she returned to OSU in 2012 to get a master’s degree in agricultural education – Partlow took a series of jobs related to her bachelor’s degree in animal science. She was a veterinary assistant for a racehorse breeder in Newberg, looked after dairy calves on a feed lot in Denmark, did branding, vaccinations, de-worming and other tasks at an Australian cattle station and sold and cut meat at New Seasons Market at Hillsboro.     

Her broad experience no doubt has helped Partlow forge partnerships linking the community and the SUSHS ag program. Businesses that have donated funds or materials or offered internship or work placement include Del’s Building Supply, Big Lick Farm and Les Schwab Tire Center in Myrtle Creek, Roseburg Forest Products and Northwest Farm Credit Services in Roseburg.

Looking ahead, Partlow said she has a multi-page to-do list. High on the roster are improving program facilities and organizing a larger-scale plant sale. Another priority is planning more community service so word continues to spread about SUHS’s ag program. 

Meanwhile, she and SUHS ag students have learned to grow from mistakes. Rainy weather earlier this spring should have meant dialing back on watering greenhouse plants. But a lack of communication meant the plants got doused.

“So all our transplants died of root rot, and we had to scramble to get new geranium, petunia and fuchsia starts,” Partlow said. No need to panic, though.

“It was a ‘whoops!’ that we all learned from,” she said. 

Douglas Education Service District | 1871 NE Stephens | Roseburg, OR 97470
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