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District announces 2017-18 Educators and Administrator of the Year

Each year HSD also recognizes its outstanding teaching staff with the Educator of the Year Award. It is awarded annually to one educator from each of the elementary and middle schools, two educators from Hermiston High School, and one district-level educator. School staff members nominate coworkers from their respective schools for the honor. Nominees must have worked in the district for at least five years. The award is considered a “career-level” award that is granted only to the most deserving of educators.

This year’s recipients are:

Hermiston High School

Leah SmithLeah Smith has been a teacher for 11 years. Leah is a true professional in her craft of teaching agriculture science to her students. She dedicates hours before and after school to provide opportunities for her students to learn and grow. One only needs to attend any of the many events put on by FFA to see her dedication and the growth of her students.

As a teacher and advisor with FFA, Leah has developed relationships with teachers, parents, and community partners. The Ag Program continuously puts on events at school and in the community. Through her work, students interact with 20-30 community members on a regular basis. Our FFA events are some of the most successful and well-organized events put on by the school. Leah has been a driving force for the success of these endeavors.

Leah has always pushed the envelope of instruction and organization with her classroom. Her vet science labs expose students to the latest technology and practices. She works tirelessly to expose students to hands-on activities in the classroom and at industrial facilities. Students who come through her program are prepared for the next steps after high school. She is often asked to open her classroom, as a way to show new teachers best practices in teaching.

Emilee Strot-Smith has taught at the high school for 5 years. Emilee is always positive and encouraging no matter the students’ ability, and she seeks out opportunities to support and connect with students. She goes above and beyond to inspire a healthy lifestyle among our students, even making workouts available during breaks.

Emilee is a member of the Hermiston High School leadership team and lends her voice to influence decisions for the school. She is always willing to collaborate and will seek out other teachers and staff if she has concerns about a student.

Emilee strives to bring diversity to her approach to physical education. Her development of Club Bulldog has had a major impact on our school and shows her vast knowledge and ability to inspire.
She coaches track, helps with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and is present at student events. She is very supportive of the Hermiston High School community.

Armand Larive Middle School

Katie Abbot has taught in the Hermiston School District for four years. Katie sets high expectations for her students’ learning, incorporating Best Teaching strategies into her instruction to support the students, as her tiered lessons become more rigorous. She also recognizes the additional mental and emotional supports her students need. She wants all of her students to feel comfortable and safe in her classroom and goes out of her way to be very accommodating.

Katie has her students work together to solve problems and is willing to try new ideas and strategies. She works hard to show students that science is fun, and they CAN learn, even when they think they cannot. Co-workers appreciate how easy she is to work with and appreciate how she pushes them to improve their craft. She is a team leader and sets a positive example for her teams and others at Armand.

Sandstone Middle School

Kent Barnes has taught in the Hermiston School District for 11 years. Kent is popular with students, families, and colleagues. Students love him because he is kind, loving, fun, and they know he cares not only about their education but about them as a person.

Kent consistently inspires students in his classroom to achieve high standards, year after year, through thoughtful, purposeful, and engaging lessons. He is able to find students’ unique strengths and uses them to help them achieve their highest potential. He has strong academic expectations and shows his students every day that they can and will succeed.

Kent is also active outside the classroom, connecting with students through coaching both football and basketball. Students exceed his expectations to make him proud.

Desert View Elementary School

Ashley Nicodemus has taught in the Hermiston School District for 5 years. Ashley fosters the love of learning through her great ideas and strategies. She is very knowledgeable and pushes students to do their very best. She continues to support them even after they left her classroom. Ashley communicates often, which is appreciated by her team and other staff members. Ashley is also very approachable and always has her door open.

Highland Hills Elementary School

Tracy Tynkila has taught in the Hermiston School District for 16 years, all at Highland Hills. Tracy is passionate about what she does. She develops meaningful relationships, is selfless, and has the drive to help others improve as well. Tracy is always willing to go above and beyond to help students and staff, and she is very welcoming. Tracy is a team player and wants the best for Highland Hills.

Rocky Heights Elementary School

Michelle Dunkel has been a teacher for 14 years. Her willingness to support her grade team and the dedication to the initiatives at Rocky Heights is what sets her apart. She provides positive ideas for her team and works with her committee to push the school, its teachers and students to become better.

She is a member of the school professional development committee and leadership team. She is helping to lead the implementation of Rocky’s instructional framework across the building.

If one visits Michelle’s classroom any day, at any time, they would see a teacher who gives every ounce of energy to delivering quality lessons. She embodies the notion that as soon as you stop learning, you stop growing. She is invested in the lives of her students; caring for them as if they were her own children because, in Mrs. Dunkel’s opinion, they are. It is not uncommon to walk through her classroom in the morning to find former students working, doing extra jobs, visiting, receiving extra help, or just for a hug. Her commitment to her students is first class.

Sunset Elementary School

Tina Crowell has been a part of the Hermiston School District for 4 years. Tina is a beloved counselor and teacher. She has a caring heart and serves as a role model to both students and her peers. She is cooperative, upbeat, helpful and friendly. Tina has a commitment to the staff to keep them informed about issues and concerns related to students. She goes above and beyond to make sure Sunset is a great place for kids and those who work with them.

West Park Elementary School

Bridget Schultz has been with the Hermiston School District for 4 years and has taught for 12 years. She is always finding new, innovative ways to make learning fun! She has campouts in her classroom with fake fires and takes her students on wagon train rides around her classroom, all to drive home a learning concept. She has a special way of making every student feel special, from nicknames or nametags to fund handshakes in the hallway.


Sandra Rice has been with the Hermiston School District for 25 years. This is her third year as an instructional coach; prior to that, she taught middle school science for 22 years. She is trained as a trainer in both Constructing Meaning and Explicit Instruction, which allows her to mentor and support Hermiston teachers for the first three years of their career in education.

Most recently Sandra devoted her summer to revamping the FOSS science kits for grades K-5, to outfit a completely new K-5 science curriculum for implementation in the fall of 2017. Sandra has assumed additional duties this school year, including coordination of student teaching candidates in grades K-12; facilitating the Oregon Science Project in partnership, with Ben DeCarlow; and overseeing the implementation of a new science curriculum at the middle school and high school level.

The educators and administrator of the year will be recognized at the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Citizens Awards Banquet scheduled for February 1, 2017.

By |01/15/2018 2:46:38|District News|0 Comments

Heidy Mejia-Puerta accepted to Brown University

Hermiston High School was recently notified that Heidy Mejia-Puerta, a high school senior, was accepted to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island as an early decision (binding) applicant. Brown University is an Ivy League school and in 2016, Brown had a 9.3% acceptance rate; 32,390 students applied and only 3,015 were accepted.

Heidy Mejia-Puerta is a first-generation college student. “Heidy’s achievements are another indicator that students at Hermiston High School have the drive and ability to go for big opportunities,” said Melody Bustillos, school counselor, and Generation College advisor. “Heidy works hard, is curious, and motivated to affect change in her life and those around her.”

Heidy was selected as a LEDA Scholar to participate in a seven-week program at Princeton University the summer after her junior year. The LEDA Scholars Program is designed to help high-achieving, low-income, students go to the most selective colleges in the country. During the Scholars Program, Heidy participated in leadership training, academic writing instruction, standardized test preparation, college guidance, and community building activities.

Heidy is the sixth Hermiston High School student to be selected as a LEDA Scholar in the 13 years LEDA has been in existence. LEDA selects 60-100 students each year across the nation to participate in this all-expense paid college preparation experience.

“Heidy’s admission to Brown with the scholarship they are offering is equivalent to a basketball player getting a full-ride to Duke,” said Roger Berger, Generation College advisor. “This is a big deal and shows the ability of our students to be successful academically at the highest levels in this country.” Hermiston has been having students attend the top universities in the country for many years. “This is not the first student who is achieving the pinnacle of success academically, and this will not be the last. Heidy is continuing a strong tradition of academic excellence and we are proud of her work ethic and ability to take risks to show herself and others what is possible,” says Berger.

Heidy is undecided as to what field she will pursue, but she is inclined to pursue the political science field and law field. “This opportunity means so much to me,” said Heidy. “Not only do I get to attend one of the top institutions in this country, but I get to bring pride to my friends, family, and community. It’s really nice to show that everything they have invested in me is paying off. My acceptance into Brown has only reinforced my confidence in my ability to accomplish whatever I set my mind to.”

By |01/08/2018 9:36:17|District News|0 Comments

HHS to perform Seussical, a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss

Hermiston High School is thrilled to perform Seussical, a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Evening performances are scheduled for February 9, 10, 16, and 17, at 7 p.m., and a matinee performance will be held on February 18, at 2 p.m.

All performances take place in the high school auditorium. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the high school bookkeeping office. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for adults, and $8 for senior citizens 65 years and older with ID.

Now one of the most performed shows in America, Seussical is a fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza that brings to life all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters, including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie La Bird and a little girl with a big imagination – Jojo.

In Seussical, The Cat in the Hat tells the story of Horton, an elephant who discovers a speck of dust that contains the Whos. Horton faces a double challenge. Not only must he protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he must guard an abandoned egg left in his care by the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird. Although Horton faces ridicule, danger, kidnapping and a trial, the intrepid Gertrude McFuzz never loses faith in him. Ultimately, the powers of friendship, loyalty, family, and community are challenged and emerge triumphantly.

Seussical is suitable for the entire family. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to see your favorite Dr. Seuss’ characters.

Full credits for Seussical are Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Eric Idle.

By |01/05/2018 4:08:25|District News|0 Comments

HSD celebrates ‘School Board Recognition Month’

The Hermiston School District will join the other 196 school districts throughout Oregon to celebrate January as “School Board Recognition Month,” Interim Superintendent Tricia Mooney announced on January 4.

“Our school board members spend countless hours of unpaid time working to support the best possible educational opportunities for our students,” said Interim Superintendent Mooney. “They also serve as the corporate board of directors to the fourth largest employer in the community. Celebrating School Board Recognition Month is one way to say thanks for all they do.”

“School board members represent their fellow citizens’ views and priorities in the complex enterprise of maintaining and running the community’s public schools,” Mooney said. “They also reinforce the principle of local control over public education, which is an important, highly valued aspect of education in Oregon.”

“Too often the efforts of school board members go unrecognized,” Mooney said.

The school board’s main goal is to support student achievement, Mooney added. To achieve that goal, the board focuses on the following needs:

  • Creating a vision for what parents and citizens want their school district to become and how to make student achievement the top priority
  • Approving standards for what students must learn and be able to do
  • Assessing whether schools achieve their goals and whether students are learning
  • Accounting for the outcomes of decisions and by tracking progress and reporting results
  • Aligning the use of the district’s human and financial resources
  • Supporting a safe and orderly climate where students can learn and teachers can teach
  • Collaborating to solve common problems and to support common successes
  • Focusing on continuous improvement by questioning, examining, revising, refining and revisiting issues related to student achievement.

During the month of January, each board member is recognized by a school within the district. Members of the board may be recognized at a student body assembly, may join students for lunch, bulletin boards or door decorations may be done in their honor. The district will acknowledge the Board at the January 8 meeting, where Interim Superintendent Mooney will proclaim January School Board Recognition Month and hold a social to honor the members.

“Even though we are making a special effort during January to show appreciation for our school board members, we recognize their contributions reflect a year-round effort on their part. They are dedicated individuals who are committed to improving student achievement and to fighting for the best for all of our students,” Mooney said.


By |01/04/2018 12:20:31|District News|0 Comments

Larry Usher selected as 2017-18 Administrator of the Year

On January 3, during a high school assembly, Interim Superintendent Tricia Mooney announced that Hermiston School District Athletic Director Larry Usher was selected as the 2017-18 Administrator of the Year.

Mr. Usher has been a catalyst for improving school culture by increasing student attendance at athletic events, starting the student tailgate parties, introducing an improved mascot, placing emphasis on our school brand, and using social media in a positive way to promote events. His tireless efforts to move HSD to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) demonstrated his commitment to doing the best for student-athletes and pursuing the district goal of striving to be premier.

He has built trust with AAU coaches, stakeholders from the Booster Club, Linebackers Club, and Music Boosters, which has helped create opportunities for all students. He is often the organizer and facilitator for tournaments, college use, and community activities that have a positive economic impact on our community.

Mr. Usher was hired into the Hermiston School District in 2002 as a high school social studies teacher. In 2010 Usher assumed the dean of students’ position at Sandstone Middle School. In July 2013 was promoted to assistant principal and in July 2014 became principal. In 2016 he was hired as the athletic director.

By |01/03/2018 3:16:08|District News|0 Comments

Additional parking at HHS accommodates growth

Hermiston High School is opening a new parking lot on January 2, 2018, via Orchard Avenue. The north parking lot was created to assist with traffic congestion and provide additional student parking.

Students will be able to access the building through the doors by the weight room, and will follow the same open/lock schedule as the purple gym doors.

All buses will continue to enter the school via the northern First Street entrance and exit out of the southern First Street driveway. Parents may continue to drop off students via the Highland Avenue entrance and either drop students off in front of the school (exiting out the southern First St. exit) or on the southern side of the high school along Highland Avenue (exiting out the western Highland Avenue exit).

“Parking has been an ongoing issue at the high school, and is our hope this parking addition will alleviate many of these issues,” said Director of Operations Brad Wayland.

On January 2, ASB students will greet the first 200 students that enter the school using the new parking lot with hot chocolate.

By |12/12/2017 5:50:22|District News|0 Comments

ALMS robotics students to compete in FIRST® LEGO® League tournament

Three Armand Larive Middle School robotics teams are scheduled to compete in the Intel Oregon FIRST® (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) LEGO® League 2017 Qualifying Tournament on Sunday, December 10, at The Dalles Middle School. The students will be led by Mr. Ben DeCarlow, science teacher and robotics advisor.

The competition has different age brackets: grades K-4, grades 4-8, grades 7-12 and grades 9-12. Armand Larive students will participate in the grades 4-8 age bracket, in which elementary and middle school-aged students research a real-world engineering challenge such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are charged to develop a solution. This year’s challenge is HYDRO DYNAMICSSM.

The three ALMS teams are composed of 4-10 students. Each team will need to design, build, and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS®, then compete on a tabletop playing field. If Armand’s robotics teams are successful in the competition, the teams will be able to attend the state championships in January.

“I am very proud of what all three teams have accomplished,” said Mr. DeCarlow. “It has been really fun to see each team as they have grown and developed over the course of the year. I am ready for our first competition of this year; so I can see all of the hard work and effort put in by all of my students pay off.”

The teams will be guided by the following fundamental FIRST® LEGO® core values:

  • Participants are a team.
  • The work is done to find solutions with guidance from coaches and mentors.
  • The coaches and mentors do not have all the answers; all learn together.
  • The spirit of friendly competition is honored.
  • The importance lies on what is discovered not so much on what is won.
  • The experience is shared with others.
  • Gracious Professionalism® and Cooperation® is displayed on everything done.

The Armand robotics program is set up as a class and club. The students are required to take the class, and they have the opportunity to meet after school as part of the Robotics Club. Last year, the robotics program started out with talented and gifted students from both Sandstone and Armand Larive. This year, the club is only offered at Armand Larive for all students that want to participate.

To learn more about the FIRST® LEGO® League tournament visit

By |12/06/2017 1:23:46|District News|0 Comments

HHS to host Knowledge Bowl Club tournament

Hermiston High School will host a Knowledge Bowl Club tournament today, Wednesday, November 29, from 4:00-7:30 p.m., in the Commons. Nearly sixty-five students representing five high schools from Echo, Stanfield, Helix, Umatilla and Connell, Washington will participate in the competition. The event is a fast-paced question-and-answer tournament that will test the students’ knowledge in a variety of topics including science, literature, history, geography, current events, math, music, and religion.

There will be three oral rounds of fifty questions followed by a championship round featuring the top three teams with the highest cumulative points.  The team with the most questions answered correctly during the championship round will win the honor.

John Lauck and Maggie Hughes-Boyd, co-advisors of the 16-member Hermiston club will be directing the event. Two school board members will be serving as volunteers; Karen Sherman will be a reader, and Dave Smith will be a timer.

“The students have been looking forward to the competition and it’s quite an honor for us to be hosting the event,” said John Lauck. “We have students who are very enthusiastic and will be representing every grade level. We encourage folks to come out and support our team.”

By |11/29/2017 10:34:39|District News|0 Comments

Community invited to celebrate football championship

Hermiston High School’s football team earned the title of OSAA 5A Football State Champion for the second time this past Saturday with its 38-35 victory over Churchill in Hillsboro Stadium.

To celebrate the football team’s accomplishment, Hermiston High School has scheduled a celebration this Thursday, at 7:15 p.m. in the high school’s main gymnasium, and the public is encouraged to attend.

The community members can expect to:

  • Meet the team and coaching staff;
  • Take photos with the team;
  • Get autographs;
  • Watch a video of the season’s highlights.

“We had an incredible season, and I am proud of this incredible accomplishment,” said Football Head Coach David Faaeteete. “These young men put a ton of work and time into the season and it paid off. This was the best way to end our farewell tour with OSAA. This win is not only ours; the coaching staff, parents, student body, high school staff and community members were very supportive of the team, and we could not have finished our season this way without their help. Thank you!”

Light refreshments will be provided at the end of the celebration.

By |11/28/2017 10:54:10|District News|0 Comments

Hermiston High School FFA students place at the State competition

On Saturday, November 18, Hermiston High School FFA hosted state-level contests for the Veterinary Science and Agriculture Sales Career Development Events (CDEs). Twenty-one schools, including 36 A & B teams, competed in veterinary science and 20 schools participated in agriculture sales.

Eighty-three Oregon FFA members competed in the Agriculture Sales CDE. Out of the 20 teams, Hermiston placed 8th. Team members were Deven Hofbauer, Jenna Wallace, Blake Betz, and Joseph Knight. Individually, out of the 83 kids, Jenna Wallace placed 4th overall.

One hundred sixty-nine Oregon FFA members competed in the Veterinary Science CDE. Out of 21 A teams, Hermiston placed 1st. The team consisted of Dylan Westfall, Kennidy Baker, Jenna Wallace, Isel Tejeda Urenda, and Adrian Stewart. Of the 169 individual competitors, Dylan Westfall placed 1st overall, Kennidy Baker placed 6th, and Jenna Wallace was 8th. The Veterinary Science CDE students will now move on to the National CDE in October 2018.

Over 35 community members assisted with the event, including staff from three different local veterinarian offices and six district staff members. Volunteers donated eight hours of their Saturday supporting the event. One staff member graded more than 150 essays in the scenario portion of the Vet Science contest. FFA alumni were active in the event serving breakfast and lunch to judges, advisors and students.

“The veterinary science team spent countless nights and endless hours at the school for the last two months preparing for the contest,” said Leah Smith, agriculture sciences teacher and FFA advisor. “I am so proud of them and their accomplishments.”

By |11/21/2017 5:08:05|District News|0 Comments