Superintendent of Bethel School District
Making A Difference for Kids
When Colt Gill became superintendent of Bethel School District, he walked into a welcoming meeting to find his second grade picture displayed on a screen—a boy with long hair and a sort of paisley hippy shirt.
“I grew up in what now is the Washburne Historic District; it was a bit of a rundown area when I was living there. I lived a block from Brattain Elementary which was one of the lowest income schools then and is still a school that works with many students in poverty. I didn’t always fit in. I had long hair, probably the longest of anyone (girl or boy) in my elementary classes. I experienced some discriminatory remarks because of this. I also had a learning disability, labeled as Dyslexia and did not read until well into the third grade. For these reasons I stood out a bit.
His family was very caring and focused on education. His parents never spoke of college as an option; it was an expectation. Gill worked full time at Bi-Mart to pay for college. As part of getting a two year degree at Lane Community College, he had a "field experience" in the same elementary school that he'd attended.
"I had quite an experience with a young boy who was going through real trauma in his home life. His parents had passed away and he needed a little extra support to make it through the school days. I instantly fell in love with teaching. I saw that you have the power to help kids like that who were struggling to make it through the next stage, survival wise. If you could help in that part of their life, it would become really important to their future. And then on top of that, I found that through education, you could help point them to a way out of multi-generational poverty. You could open doors for them. So that’s what turned me to teaching. I loved teaching. I miss it today.”
After graduating magna cum laude from University of Oregon, Gill taught elementary school in Creswell where he got into integrating technology and became Creswell's first district technology director. Gill got grants from the state so they were able to wire the whole district, have connected computers in every classroom, and get computer labs going. He taught teachers how to use technology and worked for the first time with middle and high school kids.
Wanting to get back into daily contact with students, Gill returned to the University of Oregon and earned a master’s degree and his administrator license. He was immediately hired as principal of Harrison Elementary School in South Lane School District where he got to know two groups of kids quickly: high performers and kids who were struggling. Through the strugglers Gill started working with Roland Good and DIBELS. After a year of implementation at Harrison, they brought DIBELS to the whole school district. The district hired reading specialists and began focusing heavily on literacy and reading, tools kids really need after they leave elementary school.
When Krista Parent became superintendent in South Lane, she selected Gill to be curriculum director and later assistant superintendent. Administrator meetings were turned into professional development that was geared toward moving student achievement forward. Concerted effort went into developing a culture of achievement in the high school - working closely with the administration, the high school site council, staff and counselors.
“Krista and I would meet each morning at four thirty in the high school gym, work out together and talk through ideas for an hour and a half before the day actually started."
When Gill became superintendent of Bethel School District, he spent a year of building relationships. Then the district launched Literacy Leadership Teams. Literacy scores improved and Bethel kids began outperforming state averages.
Gill spends a lot of time in schools. "I have a monthly meeting one-on-one with each of the principals to go over a variety of district and school issues, work with them on problem-solving, and address questions that arise. I also take time to walk around the school and the classrooms. Then I go a second time during the month just to visit classrooms. I try to be as approachable and open as possible. Sometimes we schedule times for me to be in school staff rooms just to chat and share ideas.”
Colt Gill has a passion for excellence and a desire to make a difference in children’s lives. He feels his own passion for excellence was fueled by three important mentors: Jim Ford, Nancy Golden and Krista Parent.
“I was lucky to have three amazing mentors who are all clearly recognized leaders in our field. I was lucky enough to have each one of those folks as a mentor for a time. That is where I get some of my desire to drive for excellence and provide every available opportunity for our children.”