McNary’s AVID validation celebration

Principal Erik Jespersen speaks to McNary AVID faculty and staff following their validation as an AVID national demonstration school on Thursday, April 21, in the McNary library. (Joshua Manes/Keizertimes)

The McNary High School AVID program staff had reason to celebrate on Thursday, April 21, when they were officially named an AVID national demonstration school. 

“The recognition is like a public acknowledgement that what we do here in Salem-Keizer, and McNary in particular, is really world-class,” Salem-Keizer Public Schools AVID district coordinator Barb Bamford said. “It really is the best. Our data proves it, what our kids say proves it, what we see in classrooms proves it.”

The staff gathered in the McNary library with sparkling cider, donuts and music in honor of the accomplishment. 

Principal Erik Jespersen said the validation was the culmination of a seven-year journey. Jespersen has been at McNary for eight years, and said that first year was about building morale and general systems. With those in place, McNary was able to begin the work of becoming the world-class school that Jespersen envisions.

“Our systems were all embedded in this work with AVID and now we’re seeing the fruits of that with closing access gaps with all of our students, high graduation rates, amazing scholarship amounts, beautiful CTE spaces that fully integrate with one another and with our school,” Jespersen said. “This was all part of the masterplan and today’s the day to celebrate that.”

The years that it took to get to this point might have been extended slightly with the pandemic. 

According to assistant principal and AVID administrator Heidi Tavares, McNary was preparing for its mock validation in March 2020. The buildup from 2015 to 2020 had to come to a halt.

“The staff and everybody had to put a pause on it because of COVID,” Tavares said. “This year it has been getting students and staff back up to where we were.”

But powering through the pandemic and getting to this moment may make the accomplishment more impressive.

“To have a high school that is an AVID national demonstration site really shows that even in the pandemic we kept our focus on building strong cultures, having rigorous instruction,” Salem-Keizer Public Schools superintendent Christy Perry said. “The systems that they had in place prepared them for the moment of the pandemic. But to get the recognition is really important because we know how hard our educators are working across the district.”

The validation, good for three years, means new responsibilities and expectations for McNary. 

Showcases for the AVID program will be held to demonstrate the program to schools and individuals that have an interest. And they won’t always be scheduled in advance.

“It really means our doors are open,” Tavares said. “At any time they can call us and say ‘Hey, this school really wants to come in and see what AVID looks like.’” 

Bamford believes the status brings additional expectations not only from the school and AVID, but also from the community. 

“You’ve said it’s a good school, you’ve said you’re doing good things for kids, now you have this title for the next three years,” Bamford said. “It can’t just end today, you have to be ready for, not just for people to call for a visit, not just for us to set up a showcase for people to come see it, but also just for people to pop in. It sets a level of expectation from our community. ‘You’re a demonstration school, I expect my kids to get a certain education or a certain level of care when they come to this school.’”

After the three years, McNary will need to be reassessed to keep its status as a national demonstration school. 

At the end of the initial validation process, the school was given a set of recommendations, Bamford said. Those recommendations become the goals for the next three years, when a validation team will return and look at the program through the lens of those recommendations. 

To keep their title as a demonstration school, McNary will have to show they have made the steps outlined in the recommendations. 

“It means they’ll have to work even harder to maintain that status,” Perry said. But also I think what we do as leaders is say ‘Okay, now what’s the next thing? How are we going to be even better?’ We always want to continue to learn and to grow.”