School Board likely to make decision on new superintendent March 13Superintendent candidate Michael Sowder visited Astoria Tuesday.

Sowder was one of two finalists selected to fill the position that will be vacated by Larry McMacken when his contract ends in June. Sowder is the superintendent of Yoncalla School District, which is about an hour south of Eugene.

The second finalist, Lynn Baker, a superintendent in Cashmere, Wash. dropped out of the race. The board decided to proceed with the interview process with Sowder.

Sowder introduced himself to parents and educators in the Astoria High School Library.

Sowder pointed to four main areas of interest in Astoria. He believes the school board is looking for someone who will visit classes and be involved in the schools.

"I'm not a micro-manager," he said. "But I also think that people need to feel valued and the person they feel most valued from is the guy at the top, who comes down and says, 'How are you doing?'"

He said he would also like to focus on school curriculum, budget concerns and completing the building project.

Sowder, 57, has been in education for 32 years. He worked in Washington for several years as a teacher, principal and superintendent.

"Astoria's bigger than a small school, but you still maintain a little of that small school atmosphere," he said. "There's more opportunity for high school kids than any other community I've seen in a long time other than a metropolitan area."

Sowder suggested Astoria build liaisons with community groups through Tongue Point Job Corps and Clatsop Community College's Maritime and Environmental Research and Training Station.

Lewis and Clark Elementary School teacher Judy Fisher said she hopes to see more student-directed learning, including more parent conferences and involvement.

One of his former districts developed mandatory conferences that students led with their parents and teacher. Schools must now look at other ways to involve students if traditional methods aren't working, he said.

For instance, as a substitute for suspension, Sowder suggested parents might spend a day "suspended" to attend classes with their student.

"Maybe that would make a positive change," he said. "This generation is so spoiled, they think they don't have to work."

Sowder has headed Yoncalla district, which serves 450 students, for about two years. He helped bring in grant money to pay for an after-school and tutoring program and electrical wiring.

He served as a the superintendent of Quincy, Wash., for five years. He also worked as superintendent of Mary Walker School District in Springdale, Wash., from 1989 to 1996.

During that time, he also served as superintendent at Valley School District, which is 10 miles from Mary Walker in Eastern Washington. Before becoming a superintendent, he was a principal and science teacher in the 1970s and '80s.

Sowder returned to Oregon when he took the job in Yoncalla. He grew up in Gold Beach along the Rogue River.

While funding issues worry him, they are not deterring him from working in Oregon, he said.

"The other states are going through the funding issues," he said.

As a Washington employee, Sowder cannot retire until he's 65 years old, and he hopes to retire in Astoria.

He and his wife, Karen, enjoy outdoor sports including hiking, fishing and camping. They have two sons in their thirties who live in Washington. They also own horses and a dog named K2.

Board Chairman David Kaspar said he hopes the board will make a decision about Sowder at the next meeting 7:30 p.m. March 13 at the district office, 3196 Marine Drive.

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