ENTERPRISE — Tom Crane is having a hectic but enjoyable time getting settled into his new role as the interim superintendent for the Enterprise School District and interim elementary school principal.
He said Thursday, Oct. 14, that he keeps running into old acquaintances from his years here as a teacher. He came to Enterprise decades ago for his first teaching position, as he taught fourth grade for 12 years followed by a year in sixth grade from 1982-95. He also coached junior high sports during those years.
“The opportunity to see all these people again and their kids and their grandkids, it’s just been a blur,” he said. “I’ll talk to people and walk away and think of 29 things about that person. One lady who works over at the ESD (Education Service District) said, ‘You know, I was in your class the second year you were here.’ She told me who she was and I remembered her. She said, ‘But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is my husband was in your first class and I’ll bet you don’t remember, but he told me he made a paddle for you.’ I said, ‘I know exactly who you’re talking about. I still have the paddle.’ It was a work of art. In my 34 years in education, no student ever gave me a paddle, so that has been with me my entire career.”
Did he ever use it?
“It’s not my thing and I wasn’t part of that generation,” Crane said. “I was just amazed that that little boy, that fourth-grader, he and his dad went out in the shop and made that paddle and painted it up and brought it to me. My goal now is I’m going to go home — it’s out in my shed — and I’m going to bring it back so that he can see it. That’s the kind of moments I’ve been having. It’s just been incredible.”
But his job has entailed much more than reminiscing. Since he started Oct. 12, he’s been in nearly constant meetings learning what he needs to know for the job.
“I’m really excited about being here the past two days,” he said. “I was here 40 years ago and I left 26 years ago. It’s great to be back to Wallowa County. It’s great to be back to Enterprise.”
Even his interview with the Enterprise School Board was pleasant.
“Even the interview was fun because one of the board members introduced herself with her married name. I said, ‘It’s nice to meet you,’ and she said her first name and her maiden name and I just couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and after that, the interview was a lot of fun. A lot of laughs. It was serious, but it was a lot of fun.”
Born on an Air Force base in Harlingen, Texas, where his father served, he spent his growing-up years moving around the country. He finally settled in Oregon and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from what was then Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande. He received his administrative certificate/license from the University of Oregon. He also attended the Lewis & Clark College and Portland State University.
In addition to his long educational career, he served his country in the U.S. Army in 1973-76 and the Oregon Army National Guard from 1981-2002 rising to the rank of command sergeant major.
After his years as a teacher in Enterprise, from 2007-16, Crane served as the secondary school principal in the Colton School District south of Portland. Prior to arriving in Colton, he was the principal at Irrigon Junior/Senior High School for one year and superintendent/principal at Pine Eagle in Halfway for five years.
Planned to retire
When Crane retired from Colton in 2016, the plan was to find a place he and his wife, Heidi, would enjoy.
“My wife and I started coming up here a few years ago camping up at the lake. She fell in love with this place, and I was amazed because I always loved it here, too,” he said. “We lived on a Christmas tree farm in Colton and I never thought she’d want to move away. But she said, ‘I think we ought to look for land.’ The next thing I knew, she had some places to look at. We looked at about five places and ended up going back to the very first place we looked at and we bought 12½ acres out Crow Creek on a big bluff. The view of the mountains is incredible.”
They’ve been making progress on their home.
“The first summer we put in water and electric and septic and we put two trailers out there for her parents and us,” he said.
Beginning the summer of 2019, they lived on Crow Creek on and off.
“We camped all summer long, going back and forth,” he said. “Last summer, we started building our house. It’s now close to being finished.”
But plans to simply retire there weren’t to be.
“Then I saw the posting for the position,” he said. “I showed it to my wife and I said, ‘This timing is incredible. What do you think?’ and she said, ‘I think you should look into it.’ So we looked into it and applied for it and it worked out. I think it was meant to be — the opportunity to come back to where I started teaching and come back here and help the community and come back to the same school with some of the same teachers as when I left; with kids that I had in fourth grade who are now teachers here, it’s just been incredible.”
Down to business
One of Crane’s first orders of business will be to discuss Blake Carlsen’s resignation letter and develop a follow-up plan. Carlsen recently submitted his resignation as secondary school principal to the district board. Crane said the resignation letter says Carlsen’s last day will tentatively be Dec. 31.
Carlsen, who has been principal since 2003, formerly taught at Enterprise Elementary School, like Crane. Carlsen declined to comment on his reasons for stepping down or his future plans.
Crane said he will seek an interim principal, given that it’s in the middle of a school year. Such hiring situations — as with his own — often are difficult midyear, according to school board Chairwoman Mandy Decker.
She said in a press release announcing Crane’s hiring that during its search, the board didn’t receive nearly as many applications as it had hoped for. Only nine applications were submitted, she said, adding that most people who are currently serving as superintendents are unlikely to leave their posts in the middle of a school year.
“It’s just too late in the game to do a search (for a permanent superintendent), especially during a pandemic,” she said. “It’s too soon to even think what next year looks like.”
In the meantime, Crane has been meeting with Carlsen and acting Elementary Principal Landon Braden to work out a plan for the transition in administrators. Braden’s main job is as secondary school counselor, and he is only holding the acting principal’s job temporarily.
The school district also needs to find a permanent superintendent. Asked if he plans to seek the position, Crane was noncommittal.
“I don’t know. … I’m just going to do the best I can for the next nine months,” he said.
His current contract runs through June.