Popular Washougal educator gets reprieve

District will offer Gordon Washburn different position

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 
photoGordon Washburn

A Washougal High School administrator whose job status limbo resulted in wide-scale online support earlier this week will remain employed at the school, albeit in a different capacity, school officials said Wednesday.

Washougal School Board members voted Tuesday night to clarify language in the district’s budget blueprint that raised concerns Gordon Washburn, one of the high school’s two associate principals, would be let go or have his position downsized due to district budget cuts. Instead, Washburn, who recently received a reduction-in-force notification, will be offered the title of student services administrator. He previously served as associate principal for 10 years.

“I never thought Gordon was leaving,” said Blaine Peterson, president of Washougal’s School Board. “That was not one of the options as I saw it.”

The mere mention Washburn’s job might be at stake resulted in a spirited response from hundreds of former and current Washougal High students, parents and faculty on the social networking site Facebook. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Facebook group “I support Gordon Washburn” had 776 “likes.”

Several dozen wall posts on the group’s page credited Washburn for his caring demeanor both as a band director and associate principal and raised questions about why Washougal administrators would consider releasing the namesake of the school’s performing arts theater.

Washougal Superintendent Teresa Baldwin said Washburn’s reputation and popularity made discussing his job future an unenviable task. But the state’s “incredibly difficult budgetary times” forced the district to consider cost-saving alternatives they might not have otherwise, she added.

For instance, the district downgraded its assistant superintendent position to a curriculum director, in order to save money. The district has also downgraded two associate principals at an elementary and middle school, Baldwin noted.

Twenty district employees were sent reduction-in-force notifications this year, Peterson said. The notices are designed to make employees aware their job could be cut, not that those jobs will be cut.

Hours before Tuesday’s meeting, Baldwin said the blueprint mentioning Washburn was merely a “worst-case scenario,” and urged students, parents and staff to see how the situation unfolded before growing disgruntled.

“Gordon is the most wonderful human being, and extremely talented in his ability to oversee theater and the performing arts and work with students,” Baldwin said Tuesday afternoon. “It would be a very difficult thing to eliminate that position.”

Holly Jones, a 1997 Washougal High graduate, started the Facebook group Monday in effort to rally support behind her former teacher. The page gained traction immediately, drawing 400 “likes” in its first day.

“He was not just an educator, but a mentor who wanted to see students succeed,” Jones said. “He did it in a way that made students feel valued like adults.”

Jones noted she hoped her Facebook campaign would help Washburn, but conceded his job status ultimately rested on the state and district education budgets.

Peterson said school board members were aware of the Facebook group supporting Washburn. He stopped short of saying that influenced the outcome. Instead, it made them aware that they needed to clarify the board’s position.

“With the budget cuts, we’re trying to put people in positions of strength,” Peterson said. “Of course, for Gordon Washburn, that’s dealing with students, the arts and the auditorium.”

Still, changing Washburn’s position is not ideal, Peterson said. It allows the school to better accommodate student needs, but reduces the amount of teacher supervision.

“The problem with trying to do the same amount with less is it puts more stress on fewer people,” he said. “It’s not a good position the Legislature keeps putting us in.”

Peterson’s remarks were shared by Julie Down, a parent of a Washougal High student.

“I’m predominantly concerned about the loss of an associate principal position at the high school and the effect that it has on the current culture and future culture,” Down said. “We need the administration working together and being a team.”

Washburn did not return multiple calls seeking comment for this story.