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‘Excited to come to work’

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAshland Middle School Assistant Principal Katherine Holden inside the temporary libraray on campus.
Katherine Holden of Ashland Middle School named Oregon’s Assistant Principal of the Year

Long before she became Ashland Middle School’s assistant principal, Katherine Holden was in a classroom herself taking note of her favorite teachers’ finest qualities.

“I would notice which teachers were most effective and why,” she said. “Even as a little kid, I remember noticing that.”

Holden loved how one of her teachers at Walker Elementary — where her father taught — would transition from one activity to the next. At Ashland Middle School, she was taken by the sound of her instructor’s flute playing the “Jeopardy” theme song and learned how to write creative stories.

Now, Holden can add something to her life story — the honor of being named Oregon’s Assistant Principal of the Year for 2022. That makes her a finalist for the national title, which will be announced in April.

Holden was nominated for the top assistant principal award through her peers, and the Oregon Association of Secondary School Administrators agreed.

“Katherine’s leadership during the pandemic — along with her leadership and commitment to staff development on equity, diversity and inclusion — are admirable and noteworthy,” COSA Executive Director Craig Hawkins said in a prepared statement. “Katherine is an example for all Oregon school leaders, and we are proud to recognize her as our 2022 Oregon Assistant Principal of the Year.”

Though she received the honor, people who work with Holden directly, such as the middle school’s principal, Steve Retzlaff, say she is not someone who is driven by ego or recognition.

“Rather, she is completely focused on the students we serve and their social, emotional and academic growth,” Retzlaff wrote in a statement to COSA nominating Holden.

Holden has also mentored the people she works with, such as Allison Hass, a student support specialist.

“Coming into my position, I had never worked in the schools before,” said Hass, who was a marriage and family therapist. “Katherine was really my teacher in so many ways, helping me understand what a school system is and how to really be a counselor and an advocate for students in a way that promotes an inclusive campus and a good educational experience.”

Holden had taught at Ashland High School since 2000 before coming to the middle school in 2012. She taught video production, which included the school’s TV show, “Watching Ashland High School,” before ascending to assistant principal in 2015.

“I didn’t see myself as an administrator, but ... as I moved into this role, I think I’ve now understood why it’s a good role for me. I’m relational and very organized; I think in systems,” Holden said.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAshland Middle School Assistant Principal Katherine Holden inside the temporary libraray on campus.

In a news release, school officials noted how, after the district’s superintendent unexpectedly resigned in 2020, Holden led all of the district’s schools through the transition to distance learning in the wake of the pandemic. It was noted Holden also fulfilled other roles, including acting principal, during part of that time.

“Katherine managed — and excelled at — all of these responsibilities,” Retzlaff wrote. “There is no one else I know who could have done what Katherine did that spring, summer and fall.”

Alluding to the impacts the pandemic has had on schools, Holden said, “I think we’re all tired.”

“For me, I come to work trying to figure out how I can support staff … because it’s been a hard couple of years,” Holden said. “I just want to be able to be of service.”

When she was given the opportunity to share what she’s most proud of in a questionnaire to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Holden pointed to a slew of projects.

One was implementing a support plan for transgender and nonbinary students. Another was creating a “digital citizenship curriculum,” teaching students to be “safe and respectful online.”

Academics and policies aside, Holden noted her efforts to make Ashland Middle School a “positive, playful, inspired and community-minded organization” by baking birthday cakes and creating silly holiday videos.

“I’m excited to come to work,” Holden said. “I’m always curious what the day will bring, because every day there is something new and different.”

On the day she was announced as Oregon’s Assistant Principal of the Year, some things were different at Ashland Middle School. A wall was papered over, dubbing her a “rock star,” and buttons with her face were made for people to wear.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.