‘This could be the model rural district in Oregon’

Sue Wilson is the new superintendent of the Mapleton School District. She was previously employed by Lane Education Service District as their Director of Student Success and brings to the job many years of administrative and teaching experience. (Courtesy photo)

Sue Wilson takes over as Mapleton superintendent

Aug. 30, 2022— As the 2022-23 school year kicks off for Mapleton School District (MSD), it will be under new leadership. After long-time superintendent Jodi O’Mara stepped down last June and a thorough search, involving a professional firm along with community and staff input, Sue Wilson was chosen to lead the district into the future.

Wilson comes to Mapleton from the Lane Education Service District (ESD), where she had been the Director of Student Success since December of 2019.

For a period during the pandemic, she also served as reopening advisor, a position that could be of great value depending on the state of public health moving forward.

Wilson is originally from Arizona. She came to Oregon after high school to attend Oregon State University in Corvallis. She returned to teach in her home state for 13 years before returning to Oregon to continue her career.

“When I came up here to Oregon State for college, I knew I loved it,” said Wilson. “At the time I threatened to come back and actually did it.”

She now raises her two boys here, one who’s 10 years old and the other who’s almost 12, along with her husband Jon.

Before taking her current position, Wilson had previous interactions with the Mapleton community in her position with Lane ESD, as she attended listening sessions at some of the small communities along the Siuslaw River. During those small community meetings, Wilson first got a taste of what she could expect if she ended up working in Mapleton.

“It was actually Pastor Bryan [Moore] at Swisshome who approached me at one of those things,” recalled Wilson. “He was being self-deprecating and said something like ‘I don’t know anything about education, but I want to help.’ He told me he knew of some dilapidated houses that could use a lot of work and wondered if somehow we could use them to give opportunities to Mapleton students. I told him he knew exactly about education. In Deadwood the next night, I told the group about that interaction and that sparked more ideas.”

Those listening sessions and interactions like that one stuck with Wilson.

“There’s something here that resonates with the people and they feel the mission,” said Wilson. “I don't know that they see the mission yet, but they feel it.”

When the superintendent job at Mapleton opened, Wilson thought back to those days. She applied because she felt like MSD could be something special.

“The core of what I’m up to in education just felt possible,” said Wilson. “It’s a small enough community that you can try new things. ... Listen, I’m not humble. From the second I started the application process, I thought to myself, ‘This could be the model rural district in Oregon.’ We have the right people. We have the right facilities. We’ve got everything we need to do this.”

Of special concern, in regard to facilities, is the building that houses the Mapleton pool.

The pool has sat dry since 2009 while the community has attempted to raise funds for necessary repairs to not only the actual pool but the entire building.

The Siuslaw Regional Aquatic Center (SRAC) is a group of upriver community members who have been leading the effort to repair and reopen the pool.

During their June board meeting, the MSD Board of Directors voted unanimously to end their partnership with the SRAC.

On July 27, a community meeting was held to discuss how to move forward with the pool building and steps community members could take to help “save the pool.” Wilson attended along with members of SRAC and some members of the MSD School Board.

When Wilson attended her first monthly school board meeting as superintendent on Aug. 17, she did her best to sum up the pool situation for those watching.

“I felt like we needed to level-set and get everyone the same information and on the same page,” she explained. “I met with some members of the SRAC. I met with the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] to discuss the funds they have allocated to us. For the $1.2 million project that has been proposed, we would still, between the MSD and/or SRAC, need to raise about $500,000 and also be under construction, with permits and all those things by August 2023. At this point I don’t know that that’s possible.”

At the August meeting, the MSD School Board and SRAC agreed to form a committee comprised of board members from both the MSD and SRAC along with community members to continue talks about what to do with the pool building. All agreed that even if a pool is not in the building’s future, discussions should be had to find a use that would maximize its value to the community.

Wilson also talked about some of the other facilities on the Mapleton campus and possible creative uses for them moving forward.

“I really want to explore deeply what a rural community school can be,” she said. “That includes engaging students in various ways to connect with the community but also starting to open up our facilities so they can be utilized by the whole community.”

Wilson has exciting plans for the Industrial Arts building on the Mapleton High School campus.

“That building has great bones and doesn’t need any renovations,” said Wilson. “It just needs a layer of paint. It’s got a roll-up garage with some great space. We need to organize it a little better but my goal this year is to turn that space into a community makerspace.”

A makerspace is defined as a place in which people with shared interests can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.

“We want to revitalize that space so it feels fresh and inviting to everyone, not just people comfortable in a shop,” explained Wilson. “We’ll start with student programming but eventually want the space to be for the whole community.”

Wilson says with help with funding from the county and state, they hope to add equipment such as a 3D printer, a screen printer, sewing machines and eventually a CNC laser engraver.

These are just some of Wilson’s big ideas for the district.

She also mentioned she wants to prioritize communication. She said she and her staff have created two new Facebook pages – Mapleton Schools (www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063489971762) and Mapleton Athletics (www.facebook.com/MapletonHSAthletics). Wilson asks to community to follow and share these sites as they will be a valuable resource for information.

Besides the introduction of Wilson and the discussion about the pool, the only other significant business at the MSD School Board August meeting was the election of Michelle Holman as Board Chair and Andrea Milbrett as Vice-Chair. These decisions were both unanimous.

To watch the August meeting in full, go to youtu.be/cANxOp18lX4.

For more information on the Mapleton School District visit www.mapleton.k12.or.us/.