Hahn-Huston sat down last fall for an interview with Hood River News Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea.
Hahn-Huston started work July 1, succeeding Dan Goldman.
Prior to coming to Hood River. Hahn-Huston had worked for Gresham-Barlow since 2015. She has nearly three decades experience as an educator, including 10 years as a teacher and experience as a principal in dual-language schools.
Her career highlights at Gresham-Barlow, a district serving 11,000 students, included leading ongoing professional learning for eight principals and 10 assistant principals and the transition and purchase of digital curriculum, implementing the district’s High School Success Plan and redesign of alternative programs.
Hahn-Huston spoke of her professional goals and the challenges of the district, and balancing being a mother as well as the district’s chief executive officer.
Her children are Jack, a sixth grader at Hood River Middle School, Ethan, a Westside third grader, and Lucas, a Westside second grader.
Her kids are doing well, but coming to Hood River where Mom is the superintendent has been a period of adjustment.
“They’d forget I’m at work because when they’d see me, they thought I’m picking them up early, because I always worked in a district that wasn’t where they lived, so it’s new to them,” Hahn-Huston said.
“They’re now used to seeing me and when I have my badge, they know I’m not there to get them early for whatever I’m picking them up for.”
Here is the first of the two-part interview, to continue in the Jan. 11 edition.
HRN: What did you do your first morning as superintendent?
Hahn-Huston: I don’t remember much about it, but that whole first week was getting acclimated to where things are in the district. Before I interviewed, I came out a couple of times and drove around the county to see the schools and neighborhoods. I feel like I had a good understanding of that before my first week.
So coming to work it was really getting a better understanding of the systems in place and the folks at the District Office and who oversees what and the supports the schools have. I kicked off a kind of informal analysis and audit.
HRN: How have your kids adjusted?
Hahn-Huston: They love it. They like riding their bikes, so they love that they can come home and get on a bike and be free and have the beautiful scenery rather than the city.
HRN: What do you like to do as a family?
Hahn-Huston: We play a lot of Legos; the boys are all addicted. They’re great at building, but not so much taking them apart. Star Wars is big for them. They like riding bikes, and they’re into making their own comic books now. They’ve been reading graphic novels and want to write their own. Lucas is an artist and his brothers help with the words. We like to travel and visit new places. We spend a lot of time together as a family.
HRN: What have you done together?
Hahn-Huston: There is so much to do here. We still have a lot of bike trails to tour. Call it an excuse to eat out, but we call it our “food tour”: We’ve been trying different places and it’s great because all the places I go there is always a neat connection to Hood River and people are very invested in the community and most have come from here. I’ve learned a lot about the community just by eating out.
I’m a city girl getting transformed one orchard at a time. Because we’re on an orchard tour, going to different places and discovering new ones all the time. I enjoy taking pictures and we’ve enjoyed the amazing views. We visited one orchard and sampled different pears and the boys were trying to decide which is their favorite pear variety. They decided it was the Gem. They’re not used to that much variety.
HRN: Your own children have a creative side; speaking as superintendent, how can schools foster creativity in our young people?
Hahn-Huston: Personally and professionally I believe that through adults getting to know the kids brings a lot of that out. I know I’m thankful for it, and I don’t think it’s exclusive to me because I work in the district, but I’ve seen in the people and staff who have invested to get to know (students), to know what they like. Going to conferences, people knew my son well enough, because they spent enough time to know him and how to best motivate him and the areas of strengths he has and how to build on that.
The relationships the staff has and taking time to get to know the kids is the most valuable thing.
Knowing the creative side of the kids and the things that honors the kids and that they know they are respected and encouraged is the best thing we can do as educators, because everyone is different. We can’t treat everyone the same and as educators, we know that.
HRN: Between class sizes, meeting state standards and the sheer physical challenges of each school, it can be hard to develop those relationships. How can the district and administration work to help teachers and kids find those ways to connect?
Hahn-Huston: One, is setting the expectation of those relationships. At my first meeting with all the administrators, I asked them what we value in this district. This was back in the beginning of August. Independently of each other, I asked them to come up with three things they value. They wrote it on sticky notes and put it into categories and we put them all on the wall.
And hands down, the longest list was relationships: What do we value as a district?
If we know what we value, we’re going to live what we value, and that’s what they collectively showed, it was around equity and relationships. Knowing the value is there, setting the expectation for what that looks like, and creating the time and opportunity to make it visible and live and authentic is really our primary task.
Every principal has different leadership styles and how they go about it might look different, but as we get to know people through relationships we can find ways to encourage and engage them, too. So I think helping principals knowing, if they don’t know already, the best strategies to get them the tools to develop that.
“I strongly believe in the district here, or I wouldn’t put my most precious investment of my kids into the care of the district by any means. As a superintendent, this (HRCSD) was really the only job I was interested in. I was pretty selective not only about where I want to work but also where I want my kids to learn and grow.”