Sitting down in her office for a conversation last week, Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff experienced a range of emotions.
With only a few days remaining in her four-year run with the Philomath School District, Goff reflected on her time on campus and expressed excitement for what awaits as the next superintendent for Greater Albany Public Schools.
“It is bittersweet — I’m surprised at how strongly it feels sweet and how strongly it feels bitter but sad,” she said. “I’m going to miss so many people here. I feel with the size of Philomath and the way that we operate and just everything we’ve accomplished in the last four years coming together, I feel like it’s a really familial atmosphere. My heart is hurting a little bit about that.”
At the same time, Goff said she will be taking on new challenges with Greater Albany Public Schools, in a position that oversees 21 schools in a city more than 10 times the size of Philomath.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to work in a different part of my wheelhouse there,” she said. “I have a lot of instructional leadership and I’ve loved that part of my life but Lisa Harlan, the assistant superintendent at GAPS, is just a dynamo in that area which allows me to do some focus around bonds and construction and budgeting.
“It’ll be a different lean for me, which was attractive, and just with my daughter graduating, we re-evaluated where we were (Goff and her husband) and whether we thought it would make sense for me to make a career job to this next level. So we took a risk and applied for Albany.”
Goff said she’s proud about what her team has accomplished since she took over the Philomath superintendency in 2015.
“I feel that we have made tremendous strides in instructional focus and thinking how do we meet the needs of every single student,” she said. “I think we have included community members and parents in a way that we hadn’t prior.”
The Emerging Bilingual Advisory Council, established on Goff’s watch, serves as an example. Projects such as the grandstands renovation and the swimming pool partnership with Benton Community Foundation also make her smile and represent just a few of the efforts that quickly come to mind during a casual conversation.
“Anything that I’m talking about happened because of the people who we have here and their ability to connect and focus on relationships and focus on every kid,” Goff said.
It’s the people that were most important to Goff. She spoke with pride about key hires she made for the district — among them Bill Mancuso (operations and finance director), Rob Singleton (instructional technology) and Krista McGuyer (special programs director).
In 2016, a football hazing controversy surfaced and Goff feels the district has moved forward through those challenges.
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“I know our athletics and activities are safer and that’s a big thing for me,” she said. “We have much tighter protocols and procedures in place to make sure kids are well taken care of and adults understand their responsibilities when they’re supervising students.”
Goff said that when she took the job in Philomath, she had planned on staying for the rest of her career.
“It was an intentional move by me and my family to come to Philomath. It’s a great community and this size is a wonderful size for a superintendent because you get to know all of the employees and you get to know kids by name and they know who you are, which is a pretty amazing opportunity,” she said. “I got to hand my daughter her diploma — those kinds of things.”
But the prospect of taking on new challenges in a larger district represented an opportunity that Goff and her family felt should not slip away. Leading a smaller district like Philomath often involves a more pronounced level of intimacy with the community. Goff, of course, understands that aspect of the job but feels it all ends on a positive note.
“There is somewhat of a fishbowl in a community this size and you know, it’s aggravated when difficult conversations arise in the district — that fishbowl feels a lot more intense,” she said. “But I think we as a community have really come together and are stronger and have done some wonderful things even through some really tough conversations.”
Goff feels the grandstands project, which she gives all the credit to facilities director Joey DiGiovannangelo, represents an example of just that and served as a “community healing activity.”
Goff said she has loved the opportunities in Philomath to interact directly with children.
“It’s really important to me and it’ll continue to be important to me at GAPS,” she said. “It’s one of the things I’ve actually been talking to my staff here about — how do I build those relationships when there’s 21 schools? It’s a little bit different but those same opportunities are there. I have appreciated that teachers have been so welcoming of me in participating in all sorts of things.”
Goff’s not going a real long stretch down the road with her new gig in Albany. She plans to maintain relationships that were developed in Philomath.
“I’m glad I’m not going very far away because I’ve got such good friends here,” she said, “people that I work with that I feel strongly about.”
Philomath interim superintendent Philip Brazeau’s first official date behind the desk was to be Monday of this week, according to his contract, although he did spend time on campus last week familiarizing himself with the employees and facilities.