PSU graduate Duane Larson named 2014–15 Vice Principal of the Year

Duane LarsonA PSU Graduate School of Education alumnus has been named Oregon’s 2014–15 Vice Principal of the Year. Duane Larson, ’96, ’01, ’02, was honored by the Oregon Association of Secondary School Administrators (OASSA) at its annual gathering in October. He holds a Master of Curriculum and Instruction degree from PSU and completed the Initial and Continuing Administrator Licensure programs.

“Duane ranks at the top of the list of vice principals that I have worked with in my career in multiple districts,” said Alice Ott Middle School’s principal, James Johnston, who nominated Larson for the award. “He is a cornerstone to what we have been able to accomplish with student achievement.”

Alice Ott has achieved Oregon Department of Education’s Model School status for the last three years in a row. It’s the first school in Oregon to do so. Model Schools are designated by the Oregon Department of Education for outstanding student achievement in a high-poverty school.

In 2013, Alice Ott was recognized as one of nine Breakthrough Schools by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. That award goes to schools “that have documented success to improve student achievement with collaborative leadership, personalized attention, and outstanding curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

These are high accomplishments considering 69 percent of Alice Ott students are at or below poverty level, 42 percent come from non-English-speaking households (representing 29 languages), and 49 percent are students of color. In 2008, only half of Alice Ott’s students passed state math tests. Vice Principal Larson and Principal Johnston needed to make big changes.

How did they turn it around? Slowly and intentionally.

Larson and Johnston met with teachers and came up with a comprehensive plan. They knew they needed data instead of perception to guide educational decisions. They grouped students by ability rather than grade level and began an incentive program for students’ progress. They changed the school’s block schedule to include reading and math every single day and eliminated electives for students who were failing. They made attendance a real priority and took extra steps to track down missing students. And they created time for teachers to call parents to inform them when students were doing well.

Through these efforts, Alice Ott’s sixth through eighth graders’ scores are all above statewide averages in reading (74.5 percent), math (74.6 percent), and science (61.1 percent). Scores for students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are especially remarkable when compared to their peers throughout Oregon. In addition, Alice Ott attendance averages a very strong 93 percent.

Larson grew up in David Douglas and attended Cherry Park Elementary, Floyd Light Middle School, and David Douglas High School. He previously taught math at West Powellhurst Elementary and Floyd Light Middle School. He was also the David Douglas community sports coordinator before being appointed Alice Ott vice principal 12 years ago. Larson will receive additional recognition at the annual conference of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators in Seaside in June 2015.

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