Gervais Elementary School principal named to the Emerging Leader Cohort program
Gervais Elementary School Principal Creighton Helms sees the educational field in Oregon as a bit of a puzzle that has yet to be solved. A native Oregonian who was raised in Medford and graduated from South Medford High School, Helms has been a product of the Oregon education system his entire life and has seen first hand the kind of results that quality educators can produce given the correct resources and leadership.
"It's an interesting dynamic," Helms said. "When we go to all of these conferences and networking events, so many of (the educators) are absolutely incredible. And they're really good at what we do."
Which makes Helms that much more frustrated to look at the performance of students across the state and see that Oregon lags behind other states.
"From an objective, performance perspective, Oregon ranks relatively low nationally when it comes to things like high school graduation rates, and reading at grade level, and things of that nature," Helms said. "The paradigm we're looking at has not been working. …We have to start thinking outside the box."
This passion for education and a desire to address and correct Oregon's education system is part of what led the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) to name Helms one of its 2018 Emerging Leader cohorts. Helms became just the fourth Oregon educator to be accepted into the program, which began in 2005 and accepts around 35 people out of thousands of applicants internationally.
"It's an incredible honor," Helms said. "I know that they set their expectations very high on who they accept into this program, so I was very humbled that I was accepted."
The ASCD was founded in 1943 with the launch of Educational Leadership magazine and includes more than 114,000 members in 127 countries composed of administrators, teachers and advocates. It is designed to help educators by providing resources and support, linking together educational experts from around the globe to lift the field of education up as a whole.
In being named an Emerging Leader cohort, Helms was identified as a developing member of the education system who exhibits a broad range of diversity and holds promise as a leader committed to ASCD's beliefs.
"They are people who have accomplished great things in the field of education," Helms said of previous Emerging Leaders. "It's empowering because it gives me some level of access to an extremely influential organization to reach out and communicate and coordinate with other like-minded people who are interested in changing the narrative of how we talk about education, not being satisfied with the status quo and push the narrative of how we educate these kids."
Helms is eager to tap into that network of educational professionals and bring innovative ideas in teaching culture to Gervais. Every community has its own unique challenges to overcome, and Gervais is no different. The school district sits in a rural, socioeconomically disadvantaged part of Oregon tucked away between big school districts in nearby cities of Woodburn, Silverton and Salem. Demographically, the student body is roughly 70 percent Latino, with 50 percent who speak English as a second language.
This creates a rich tapestry of challenges that the teaching staff in the district must address with each incoming class of students. And while Helms is excited to address those challenges, he's not afraid to seek help from outside resources — and that's where being an Emerging Leader becomes so valuable, he said.
"To be able to be part of this program, really gives me an incredibly broad network of professionals that are doing wonderful things all around the country," Helms said. "I can reach out to this diverse group of educators who have walked this path before and who are walking this path with me and say what has worked before and what hasn't worked."
Helms is enthusiastic about putting Gervais on the map and lifting it out of the shadow of its surrounding communities to be recognized not just in the state of Oregon, but around the country as well. To be a part of the ASCD family will not only have a positive impact for Helms professionally, but for the greater Gervais School District as a whole.
"To get the name of Gervais out beyond the city limits is a really positive thing," he said. "It just kind of helps from a good PR sense."
Ultimately, Helms hopes to bring the breadth of knowledge that comes from being a part of the Emerging Leader program to the state as a whole. Being one of just a handful of people to earn the honor puts Helms in a unique position to bring new perspective to the state of education in his field and he hopes to share that experience with each new class of students that walks through the halls of Gervais Elementary School.
"It's their future we have to be concerned about," Helms said. "My personal hope is that I improve on what I'm available to do and eventually to a point where we are making state-wide education decisions and policy development."