Starkey announces departure

Sandstone Middle School Principal Phil Starkey stands in the hallway of the school Wednesday afternoon beneath ceiling panels stamped by students' handprints. <BR><I>Staff Photo by Brenna E. Chapman</I>

Phil Starkey holds a breadth of experiences from 24 years as a school principal in Hermiston.

He's dropped eggs off a building's roof. He's had a leisure suit cut off him. He even kissed a pig once.

All of those resulted from various fundraising challenges at the four schools Starkey has led during his tenure in Hermiston - Sunset Elementary School, Rocky Heights Elementary School, Armand Larive Middle School and currently Sandstone Middle School. They also added to a long stay that began as a learning experience when he arrived at Sunset in the fall of 1985, Starkey said.

"They were full of grace in working with me," he said of the staff then.

That tenure in Hermiston will end in June. Starkey submitted his retirement letter to the district last week.

Starkey moved to Hermiston with his wife after teaching in Springfield and Portland for seven years. The job at Sunset was his first as a principal, which Starkey said made it odd to find himself on the other side of the teacher-administrator relationship at first.

"You had to evaluate the people you used to be a part of," Starkey said.

The veteran educator found plenty of differences making the transition from Portland to Hermiston, he said. Aside from the obvious change in scenery, working in a more diverse community provided a different feel. And despite a few contentious moments, Starkey said he's been pleased to see children of different backgrounds blend well.

Starkey spent his first 10 years in Hermiston at the elementary level, then moved to Armand Larive in 1995 to re-open the building as a middle school for the first time - a process he described as a true experiment.

Many staff there, including Starkey, had never worked in that format before, more accustomed to the junior high model. Even the recently renovated facility was a work in progress, he said.

"We had no bells," Starkey said. "For the first three years we used only clocks. But not all of the clocks were even synchronized."

When Starkey moved to Sandstone last year, one of his colleagues came with him in Vice Principal Michelle Baulig. She said she nominated Starkey for the district's Administrator of the Year award this year (he wasn't selected), and plenty of colleagues, Baulig included, spoke highly of him.

"The word overwhelmingly used to describe his character is integrity," Baulig said.

Come June, Starkey's position won't be the only spot to fill at Sandstone next year. Of the 12 resignation letters the Hermiston School Board approved earlier this week, seven work at Sandstone. Baulig said she's not worried about the large turnover despite saying good-bye to some valuable staff.

"We're obviously going to lose a slew of people," Baulig said. "But at the same time we're going to get a lot of new blood."

Starkey also noted the tremendous changes he's seen in the teaching profession itself since the beginning of his career. One of those areas is testing and assessment, he said. When he started as an administrator in the 1980s, not nearly as much emphasis was placed on test results. But that's since changed in a big way - partly driven by the federal No Child Left Behind law - and has given educators more tools to follow the progress of students, Starkey said.

Though he's technically "retiring" from the Hermiston School District, Starkey said he's "by no means" finished working in education. He hopes to work an administrative job at another nearby district next year, but remains "open to what God has for me next."

For now, actual retirement will have to wait.

"That's for a later date," said Starkey, 53. "When I'm much older."

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