By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Olsen replaces Burke at McMinnville High School

Olsen spent the last several months helping develop and communicate details of a renovation and expansion measure headed to voters in May, just as the school year is winding down. But instead of continuing his work at district office, he returned to Mac High Monday, when students and teachers returned from their holiday break.

At a forum for parents Thursday — one of a series of informational meetings he holds once or twice a month — Olsen assured Grizzly mothers and fathers that “things are okay” at the school. He said he is committed to Mac High and its almost 2,200 students and 200 staff members.

Burke, employed at Mac High since 1994, could not be immediately reached for comment. But a letter sent to parents this week indicated he had “chosen to move on to other endeavors,” leaving the school’s administrative team in the process.

The district would not comment further on Burke’s sudden departure.

In recent years, Burke served as the assistant principal in charge of curriculum and helped the school prepare students for college. Prior to that, he served as athletic director.

A University of Portland graduate, he began his career at the school as a social studies teacher and basketball coach. He was named Oregon’s assistant principal of the year in 2011-12.

Burke’s departure leaves the school with three assistant principals — Tony Vicknair, Mark Hinthorn and Amy Fast, the latter new this year.

Olsen acknowledged he hadn’t expected to be transitioning back to Mac High so soon. But he’s glad to be back with the students and staff at the school, where he was named principal in 2003.

“I always want to be a high school principal,” he said. “I love the energy level here ... high energy. It inspires you to work really hard.”

Students have been “incredibly kind, receptive and welcoming” to him this week, he said.

Olsen is a Linfield College graduate. He taught and coached in Amity and Woodburn before assuming a middle school principalship in McMinnville.

He spent several years as principal of South Salem High School before returning to McMinnville to lead Mac High. He was named Oregon principal of the year in 2014-15.

Under Olsen’s leadership, Superintendent Maryalice Russell said earlier this school year, Mac High has made great strides. It has improved its test scores and graduation rates to among the best in the state; developed small learning communities and career studies programs; and helped students prepare for higher education and earn college credits before receiving diplomas.

While he’s back at the Mac High helm,Olsen said he will continue working on the bond issue as well. Mostly, he said, that will involve morning or evening meetings, or luncheon presentations to civic and service groups, so he’ll be able to fit it into his schedule.

Planning for the bond measure was completed during the fall, he said, and board members granted their approval in December.

The bond request includes numerous projects at Mac High, including construction of a career center where students would learn skills in manufacturing, engineering, horticulture and trades such as welding; expansion of other career pathway space; and construction of a new gym.

Other projects included in the $89.4 million bond are designed to improve safety and security throughout the district, upgrade windows and lighting for better energy efficiency, and make other repairs and improvements at various facilities, including Newby Elementary. The district hopes to win a state grant that will bring in up to $7 million more to complete other projects as well.

Cost of the bond is estimated about $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is typically lower than real market value. However, district officials said voters would not see an overall increase in their property tax rates, because a 1997 bond running $1.50 will be paid off this year.

If the new bond replaces the old one, McMinnville School District voters will continue to see an overall property tax rate of about $2.80 per $1,000 for all bond repayment obligations for the school system.



Wait till you see the smoke and mirrors in this proposed remodel at the high school. It's a joke.


I hope someone at the NR will dig deeper and find out why Mr Burke left so abruptly and without any specific explanation.
Normally I think any person leaving their job would deserve privacy, but high school principle isn't just any old job. He was paid by us, and entrusted with the safety and well being of our children. As parents and community members I think we deserve to know enough about his leaving to at least be reassured that it didn't involve anything that put our children in harms way.


How about some transparency? This seems the perfect opportunity.


I'm happy to see that Principal Olsen is once again doing the job for which he is paid instead of being the political puppet of Superintendent Mary Alice Russell.


Is there any news yet regarding Burke's resignation? All of the teachers were called in on a Saturday over Christmas break to be told that Burke was out and Olsen was back, but no reason given.


...still waiting. The silence is deafening. Maybe they are hoping it will all just blow over.


Would love it if Starla Pointer would give us her take on it.


If and when there is any more to report on the Sean Burke departure, we will most certainly be doing so.

At the moment, we have nothing more. And there is no assurance we ever will.

Steve Bagwell
Managing Editor


Steve, This is a genuine question and asked because I truly do not know the answer: Does the NR ever pursue a situation (like this mysterious departure of a high school principal) to get to the bottom of it for the benefit of the citizens or do you just wait till something happens and then report on it?


It is really no one's business except Sean's. If Sean wants to make it public, it is entirely up to him. It shouldn't be made public just to satisfy everyone's curiosity.


Kona, I agree that in most cases it would be private and nobody's business. But in this case he was a public employee hired by the tax payers of McMinnville to be entrusted with their children. It is VERY unprecedented for someone to leave that kind of position after just a few months. We live in a time when I don't think it unreasonable for parents to want to know enough about his exit to at least be reassured that it doesn't in any way involve the safety of our children.
Frankly, Steve Bagwell's curt and dismissive comment only heightens my concern that maybe something is being kept quiet.


Just because Sean worked for a public entity, he still has the option to keep his personal choices private. If the situation involved "safety of our children" it would be made public.


Joel: That was in no way meant to be a curt and dismissive comment. I don't see how you could possibly reach that conclusion. I merely made three simple points: 1) We don't have any new light to shed on the Burke departure at the moment. 2) We might never have anything new, as the information is closely held and considerable effort is being made to keep it that way. 3) If and when we learn something new, we will most certainly share it immediately.
To answer your subsequent question, no, we not sit around waiting for news to drop into our laps. We pursue it aggressively. I can assure you that we have been pulling out all the stops on this baffling departure. However, so far, it has produced nothing of substance, thus we have no basis for a followup.
As for Starla's take, which someone asked about, she has none. We don't know anything beyond what we've reported, which is precious little. So neither she nor any of the rest of us would have any basis to come to some sort of a conclusion.
My suspicion is that litigation will eventually ensue, and all filings are public record. We will be keeping a close eye out as one element in our overall effort. However, that is based on nothing more than my long experience with this sort of thing.



Thanks for your response, Steve. I appreciate it.
It's good to know you guys have worked hard to try to find out what went on. Hopefully something will happen that will allow the NR to get more info in the future.
And again, I don't think anybody needs to know any private and personal details in a gossipy sort of way. I just think it's important that we are able to be assured that nothing happened that involved the safety and well being of the students.

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