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Umatilla leader Heidi Sipe named 2016 Oregon Superintendent of Year

Heidi Sipe, Umatilla School District Superintendent since 2007, has been named the 2016 Oregon Superintendent of the Year by the Oregon Association of School Executives (OASE) and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA).  This award automatically places Sipe in the running for the National Superintendent of the Year Award from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), sponsored by Aramark and Valic. Sipe’s selection as Oregon Superintendent of the Year was formally announced at the Oregon School Boards Association annual conference in Portland.

"When we gather Oregon superintendents in a room, Heidi is a leader among leaders,” said Beaverton Superintendent Jeff Rose, who currently serves as OASE President.  “As we would all hope and expect, she is passionate about student success and deeply committed to her community. What sets Heidi apart is her keen ability to think strategically guided by her integrity. She is a collaborative leader, known throughout Oregon for being a good listener and a bold educator."

Salam Noor, Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, concurred.  “Heidi is an outstanding educational leader with a deep commitment to equity and a strong belief in the promise and potential of each and every child,” Noor said. “Her passion, dedication, and vision make her a true asset not just to her district and region but to the whole state. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this honor.”

Umatilla School District is located in northeast Oregon.  Nearly 90 percent of Umatilla students qualify for free or reduced meals, and more than two-thirds are students of color (primarily of Hispanic origin).  Of Umatilla’s 1,400 students, about one-third are active English Language Learners.  The district’s motto is, “Building Bridges to Successful Futures,” and its collective focus is aimed at eliminating achievement gaps by providing opportunities to all students.

Four years ago, Sipe and her school board made post-high school success a priority for Umatilla students, and began to emphasize increasing the attainment of college credits during high school. When they started in 2011-12, only five percent of Umatilla High School students participated in early college programs, earning just 201 college credits. Last year, 47 percent of UHS students earned three college credits or more, with 1,968 college credits earned in 2014-15.

“When others look at the demographics of our school, they see barriers to college, including limited financial resources, lack of college-going role models, and citizenship status,” Sipe said.  “But inside our schools, our students no longer accept those barriers. Umatilla students are college material, and in fact are college success stories. They see themselves for the stars they are.”

Sipe led the creation of the STEM Academy of Umatilla (SAU), and serves as volunteer coach of the district’s award-winning FIRST Robotics team.  SAU provides a variety of STEM courses to more than 600 students each year, with robotics as the backbone of the academy’s afterschool programming. Umatilla, with more than 200 students participating, now has the second highest percentage of students in the nation involved in FIRST Robotics. Umatilla has won numerous robotics competitions and awards in recent years, and the UHS team, 4125 Confidential, has twice qualified for the world championship finals.

“In our community, it is difficult for students to dream of careers they have never seen, but through SAU our students get exposed to new ideas, gain skills, and make industry connections,” Sipe said.

In addition to her work in Umatilla, Sipe has also been a prominent education leader in Oregon for nearly a decade. Among her many leadership roles: OASE (COSA’s superintendent organization) President in 2014-15; COSA Board of Directors, 2013-15; Teacher Standards and Practices Commissioner, 2013-present; Chair of Oregon’s Next Generation Accountability Systems (ESEA Waiver) Work Group, 2010-12; legislative School Funding Task Force, 2013-14; Education Enterprise Steering Committee, 2008-12; OASE Funding Coalition Steering Committee, 2010-present; OASE Vision & Policy Coalition Steering Committee, 2011-present; and Northwest Women in Educational Administration Board, 2009-11.  Sipe also assisted the Oregon Department of Education during a time of transition by serving as interim assistant superintendent in 2012-13.

“Heidi’s district may be small, but her impact on education in Oregon has been huge,” COSA Executive Director Craig Hawkins said. “She possesses a deep commitment to a successful future for each and every student in Oregon, and is a true champion for equity, for English language learners and for students who live in poverty. Heidi is a unique leader who brings a healthy dose of ‘can-do’ spirit, along with a rare combination of intellect and common sense, to every endeavor.”

Sipe and her husband, Kyle, a middle school teacher in Umatilla, have two children.  Their son, Caden, is a freshman at Washington State University.  Her daughter, Cameron, is a junior at Umatilla High School.

Sipe will be honored at the 2015 Oregon School Boards Association Convention this Saturday; at the 2016 OASE Winter Conference in Lincoln City in January; at the 2016 AASA National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in February; and at the 2016 COSA Annual Conference in Seaside in June.

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