Spotlight on Sutherlin School District
“The staff is engaged in what is best for the kids and the community is engaged with the district. This connection has naturally evolved.”
– Terry Prestianni, Sutherlin School District Superintendent
January 2022 – Engaged students, staff and community are connected hallmarks of the Sutherlin School District. The 1,365 students who attend the district’s primary, intermediate, middle, high school or the Sutherlin Valley Online Academy are connected to learning that includes a network of partnerships.
“We foster this partnership,” says Sutherlin School District Superintendent Terry Prestianni. “The staff is engaged in what is best for the kids and the community is engaged with the district. This connection has naturally evolved.”
From the free-standing little libraries built by students that are popping up around town to a micro park designed by students, a collaborative spirit is evident. Recently, students, staff and families participated in a food drive and put together 75 food baskets to give to community members. Additionally, the robotics club teamed up with the Sutherlin Public Library to share their science and technology skills with kids at a STEM event. These are examples of how learning beyond the classroom engages students, staff and the community in the process.
There is an element of devotion to a community that people call home. An amazing number of our staff and a majority of the school board members have grown up here, Prestianni explains. He was also born and raised in Douglas County and throughout his career in education as a teacher, coach and administrator he has been part of the local school systems. Staff who relocate to the area become part of the vibrant community.
The district provides students with academics while also incorporating hands-on and career connected learning (CTE) activities that often involve a community connection and align with what educators are trying to teach students. “This is a trademark of how things work in our district,” Prestianni adds.
For instance, FFA students are involved in a restoration project at Friends of Ford’s Pond. Students began collecting acorns on the property in the fall of 2018 and propagated the oaks in the district greenhouse. New trees were recently planted near the pond and more trees will be planted in the next phase. Additionally, while the greenhouse serves as a place to learn about horticulture, students also have a yearly plant sale. This is an opportunity to practice management and marketing skills.
Another example of this type of hands-on learning connected to the community can be found in the district’s big red barn that houses the Animal Science Laboratory. On the last day of school in June, students helped artificially inseminate ewes, which were purchased by the FFA chapter. “More than twenty students showed up that day,” says Wes Crawford, a Sutherlin High School teacher, FFA advisor, 2022 Oregon Teacher of the Year finalist and alumna. “A former high school graduate and an industry partner joined us, and a veterinarian stopped by to lend us a scope. It takes a lot of moving parts to pull these things off.”
Now agriculture science students are busy raising 12 lambs born in November. “This hands-on learning is really fun,” says eleventh-grader Rylie Shaver. “I don’t live on a farm so I wouldn’t have had this opportunity otherwise.” Crawford adds that this is an example of a vital learning experience that the district prioritizes.
When the sheep aren’t in the barn, they can be found grazing at the Agricultural Science program Land Laboratory, which is a decades-long collaboration with the Sutherlin Water Control District.
Throughout the first semester, sixth graders at Sutherlin Middle School get to experience STEAM learning in the Makerspace area, which was made possible in part by grants and local donations. “Hands-on exploration happens here while taking creativity and imagination to bring an idea to life by using tools and techniques,” says Tracy Spelgatti, a science teacher at the school. “This process builds curiosity.” The students get to figure out how to put things together to make items such as rubber band powered cars. They even get to learn how to use more technical items such as a laser printer. “These challenges help prepare students for the next steps,” adds Spelgatti. Plus, Prestianni shares that attendance has increased since adding this opportunity.
There is also a community connection in the primary school. Within the classrooms, partnerships are formed between various age groups. Older students have opportunities to mentor younger students with reading and other subjects. Additionally, the district provides opportunities for younger students to develop friendships with each other while having access to opportunities such as participating in music. A full-time elementary music teacher leads this incredible program, which is a perfect companion to the successful secondary music program led by another full-time music teacher. It’s worth mentioning that the physical health of these young students is important too. The district coordinates with medical professionals to provide on-site vision, hearing and teeth screenings.
The highlights mentioned represent only a fraction of the many academic and extracurricular opportunities and success stories within the district.
The district is fortunate to have committed staff, community members and a supportive school board who support and prioritize quality education for students. “Our continuous goal is to provide our students with meaningful learning opportunities while being mindful of everyone’s health and safety,” Prestianni concludes.
Working together to build relationships as well as supporting our students benefits this community now and into the future.
To learn more about this successful school district, visit www.sutherlin.k12.or.us.