OCEAN PARK — Kara Powell likes small communities. Despite coming to her new job as principal at Ocean Park School (OPS) from a school in urban Spokane, she’s spent most of her career in education (and her life) living and working in small towns. She hasn’t lived on the Peninsula long, but she has already started making herself at home.
“I just wanted to get back to a smaller community where I feel at home,” she said recently.
Powell was hired after the previous OPS principal, Cathy Meinhardt, moved to Long Beach School earlier this summer.
Powell is very much an Oregon girl — just check the giant hand-painted Ducks sign in her new office.
“Born and raised,” she said. “This is only my fourth year living in Washington.”
She began her career in 2000 as an elementary school teacher in Oakland, Oregon, a small town near Roseburg. There, she taught third and fourth grade, and reading across all grades as part of the school’s Walk to Read program, for nine years. While pursuing her administrative credentials she took the job of assistant principal at Ontario Middle School, on the eastern Oregon border. After only two years, Powell and other administrators were let go after their jobs were eliminated.
In 2011 she was hired as principal for both the elementary and middle schools of the rural town of Colton, Oregon, about an hour southeast of Portland. After a few years there, an illness in her family had her moving to Spokane for the past three years, where she was principal of Whitman Elementary. When she decided to move on, she knew what she was looking for.
“When I started looking for positions I was looking for a small community, where I could build more personal relationships with the kids and families,” she explained. “My last school had 600 kids, so it was really hard to make connections with all the staff and the kids. I wanted to get back to what I love, where I feel I’m meant to be, which is in a small community.”
Though only occupying her new office for a few weeks, she’s already learned one pretty important thing.
“So far I’ve learned this is a very dedicated staff. They’ve been in here working since the first day I was in here (Aug. 1),” she said. “It feels to me like everybody is on the same page and working together. We’re all trying to make sure we’re all headed in the right direction. It’s a team approach here.”
She said the welcome she has received from them is notable.
“Everyone has been very nice and approachable, and that’s definitely stood out to me as well,” she said.
Powell said she has yet to do much mingling with the community — she’s been moving in and getting ready for the first day of school — but said she was looking forward to those opportunities, including continuing to host community events at the school after-hours.
“I think however we can connect with the community using our facilities, just makes us that much more connected,” she said.
Powell said she was most looking forward to getting to know her students.
“Being in a school of 600 (Whitman) I didn’t really establish those relationships. But here, with this amount of kids, I really think that’s possible,” she said. “And the families as well. I’ll have more time to talk with them and really build some relationships.”
She said her time at a larger school really made her long to be back in a smaller setting.
“In larger schools and districts — I was one of 36 principals in Spokane — it just seems like there were new things coming from every side. I felt like there were a lot of gaps, and things that were missed. One of the great things about a small community (and district) is that you don’t have that. Being all on the same page and really knowing what’s happening and why we’re making the decisions we make — I’m all about that.”
And Powell said as far as she’s concerned, she’ll be here of the foreseeable future.
“I bought a house, so I plan on staying,” she said. “I’ve been through some different schools and other places, and where I feel the best is a small community like this. I would love to be here long term.”