Sean O’Malley, who recently relocated from Brookings to take the job of vice principal of Warrenton Grade School, was his own worst nightmare as an adolescent.
“A lot of people go into education because they really enjoyed school, and we tend to gravitate toward what we love,” he said. “I did not enjoy school, was not successful, especially in middle school.”
But certain teachers took him under their wing, found outlets in theater for his energy and eventually inspired him to be an educator.
“I wanted to be that positive influence for some kids that were going through those hard times,” he said.
A native of Vancouver, Washington, O’Malley graduated from Hudson’s Bay High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in advertising at Washington State University and going into sales, where he quickly realized his interests didn’t lie.
He want back to school, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education with a focus on language arts, and spent a decade as an English and theater teacher at Fort Vancouver High School.
Fort Vancouver had a reputation as a diverse, low-income, tough school, but he loved working with the kids there, and he loved every minute of it, he said.
Wanting to be an advocate for theater and the other extracurriculars that help keep kids interested in school, O’Malley turned toward administration. He interned at Fort Vancouver and applied to be a principal at Brookings-Harbor High School, but was offered a position as vice principal of neighboring Azalea Middle School.
“It was my first time in a middle school since I had attended one,” he said.
O’Malley grew to like working with kids during the transitive period of middle school, with one foot each in childhood and adolescence, he said. But eventually, he felt the pull to be near his family and started looking at positions in the Portland metro region.
O’Malley is the third principal at Warrenton Grade School, a quickly growing K-8 campus with a student body of nearly 800. He focuses on fourth through sixth grade, while his fellow Vice Principal Robbie Porter covers kindergarten through third grade. Head Principal Tom Rogozinski oversees the academics at all levels, including the district’s on-campus preschool program.
Still fresh in his position, O’Malley is focused on building the Warrior Way, an identity of self-responsibility and compassion, he said.
“I think it comes down to caring for others, having each others’ backs and being relentless,” he said.
Two of the most important transitions for students come at third grade, when they switch from learning to read to reading to learn, and in ninth grade, where those who stay on track are twice as likely to graduate.
“We’ve been working to make sure there’s a sense of support at the grade school,” O’Malley said. “When we send kids off to the high school, we don’t want to just let them figure it out for themselves.”
The move from Brookings was a sacrifice for O’Malley’s wife, Tessa, who ran a successful bakery business, Sweet O’Malley’s, which she had to put on hold for the move north.
The school was short some staff to start the year, and she transitioned into an educational assistant position in kindergarten.
The entire O’Malley family now spends their days at the grade school, including 4-year-old preschooler Nora and 6-year-old first-grader Emmett.