What does it take to turn a school around?
Four years ago, students at La Pine High School in Central Oregon struggled to meet state benchmarks. Less than 10 percent applied to four-year colleges, approximately 30 percent applied to community colleges, and most of the rest never saw the inside of a college classroom.
By 2011, this cycle had reversed course and Jay Mathisen, a ’95 Corban University (Western Baptist College) School of Education alumnus said “doing school differently” was the secret. In April, his efforts were rewarded when he was named the Oregon High School Principal of the Year.
Since taking the reins as La Pine’s principal in 2005, Mathisen has built solid relationships with his staff. In turn, his staff members have built better relationships with students, have seen higher test scores, and have helped more than 75 percent of La Pine’s students graduate and head to college or trade programs.
Although Mathisen will receive formal recognition at the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators annual conference in June, he shared the news with staff and students at a pep rally and acknowledged they were the reason he was given the honor.
What it takes to help students succeed
To help students overcome poor test scores and a lack of interest in school, Mathisen helped them bypass the typical stereotypes of poverty that many had come from. Many students have families where nobody has attended college at any level.
“Our students needed to be treated like they can succeed,” he said. “We’ve very aggressive in how we tailor the classes so that students not only pass those tests, but show them the possibilities for their future.” In addition to offering more rigorous classes, staff at La Pine High School help interested students apply to colleges and universities, assist with scholarship and grant applications and more.
“The key is giving them the tools to succeed,” he said. “To let them know college is within their reach.”
After four years at La Pine High, the number of students meeting state standards in math nearly doubled and reading scores increased by 23 percent. Additionally, the dropout rate at the school was reduced from 7.4 percent to 1.7 percent and the school was ranked as Outstanding on the 2011 Oregon Report Card. The school also met Annual Yearly Progress standards for the first time in school history.
Corban’s commitment to educational excellence
“Corban Education alum are passionate teacher leaders,” said Janine Allen, Corban’s dean of education and counseling. “Jay’s drive for excellence is infectious and models effective teacher behavior.
“Graduates like Jay strive to make a difference in the learning communities where they have been called to serve,” she added. “It’s not surprising to learn of their strong intentional leadership.”
Upon graduating from Corban (Western), Mathisen, taught social studies and math in the Mackenzie School District east of Eugene, Ore. He married fellow alumnus Shannon Green in December 1995.
He worked as a teacher for eight years before becoming principal of the high school for the 2003-2004 school year and principal of both the high and middle schools for the 2004-2005 school year. He started as principal of La Pine High School in July 2005.
Jay Mathisen currently teaches as an adjunct in the Corban University graduate education program. Corban University’s Department of Education offers Christ-centered graduate and undergraduate degrees for those called to serve students in K-12 learning communities.