PSU Alumnus and Oregon Middle School Principal of the Year Victor Vergara Shares How PSU Prepared Him for Success

Victor Vergara, BTP ’05, IAL ’12, at Valor Middle School in Woodburn has earned top honors from the Oregon Association of Secondary School Administrators and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA).

Mr. Vergara is a graduate of PSU’s award-winning Bilingual Teacher Pathway program and the Initial Administrator Licensure program. He came to the US from Chile in 1995 with bachelor’s degrees in history and geography. As an immigrant, he understood what it was like to move to a new country, learn another language, and scrape to get by. This insight made him a perfect applicant for a teaching position in Woodburn School District where, in 2000, he took a position teaching 4th and 5th grades at Valor Middle School. He was named principal in 2007.

When Woodburn School District hired him, Valor Middle School had some challenges. It was a low-performing school with a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Only eight percent of students were proficient in writing, 29 percent in math, and 25 percent in reading. Mr. Vergara decided to make school improvement his mission. He changed the culture of the school by involving parents and families. “They understand that academic achievement by a child is directly related to involvement by a parent, or guardian,” he says. He wanted to make sure every student knew they were important and that if he could succeed, they could as well.

In 2011, the school was achieving adequate yearly progress (AYP), with scores of 80 percent proficiency in math, 70 percent in writing, and 69 percent in reading. Under his leadership, the school also earned recognition from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) two years in a row, capturing the 2010 Celebrating Success and the 2011 Continuing Success awards.

“Victor’s extraordinary success since arriving in the United States from Chile seventeen years ago, not knowing anyone, and with limited English language proficiency is a tribute to his intelligence, passion, and values,” said PSU Professor Susan Carlile, coordinator of PSU’s educational administration programs. “His work at Valor Middle School is testimony to the difference that quality leadership makes in schools. He is truly a man of Valor.”

Mr. Vergara is automatically in contention for national principal of the year award, and will be honored at the state level in Seaside in June, and in September he will travel to Washington DC for the national awards celebration.

Read the COSA announcement:

Guest blog by Deborah Peterson, Assistant Professor Portland State University

On a typical April school day, I had the chance to visit Principal Victor Vergara at Valor Middle School in Woodburn, Oregon. Principal Vergara does his work with an air of calm, confidence, joy, and purpose. When I arrived to interview him, he immediately suggested we go out in the hall to supervise students during passing time. What “supervision” meant was that Principal Vergara stood at an intersection of hallways, holding a basket in which students placed their “my teacher caught me doing something awesome” sheets for a drawing later in the week, and greeted students by name. Students moved quickly and with purpose from one part of the hallway to the next while chatting excitedly.

After three short minutes, a lively tune came over the loudspeaker, and students hurried a bit more. I asked Principal Vargara why the music had come on when it did, and he explained that when the song was over, the students knew they needed to be in a classroom. This strong focus on getting to class on time is just one small part of the total culture at Valor, a culture focused on student success.

Principal Vergara worked hard for his success, beginning with his undergraduate degree in Chile and then in his college classes in the United States. His teaching licensure professors at Portland State University talked to him about challenging himself more, something he, too, wanted to do. Principal Vergara shared,

“I felt so comfortable with PSU. PSU opened the door for me in terms of education and my experience. The PSU Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program made me feel really good. I was at home.”

After successfully working as a teacher, PSU faculty again provided guidance as Principal Vergara considered becoming a principal.

“The faculty guided me. Every time I had to go to PSU, always someone was available and had advice. I never thought about going to another college. I loved it at PSU. I loved the whole thing. The faculty was always available.”

It’s clear that Principal Vergara has increased student achievement, parent involvement, and created a culture of success at Valor Elementary. Principal Vergara believes that one foundation for his success is the care PSU professors extended to him while he was developing as a teacher and principal and that it is his care for the children that is the foundation of his school’s success:

“The same thing I say about PSU professors and how they care for their students, is what I am trying to do here at Valor. We come together and care for the kids.”

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