Dr. Gander has done a remarkable job as Superintendent, K-6 Principal of a 300 student school, Business Manager, and Maintenance Director. Brian has started a district (two- school) PTO organization that we have been lacking for years, led negotiations for a new labor contract with our association, and has worked hard to bring our budget difficulties under control.”

— Dan Lemke
School Board Chair, Santiam Canyon SD

Santiam Canyon School District

2012 to 2013  


Santiam Canyon School District #129J
150 SW Evergreen Street
Mill City, OR 97360

What I learned from my Superintendent role at Santiam Canyon:

  • I learned that boards could gain greater trust by taking a step back and giving others a chance to bring a fresh perspective to problem identification and potential solutions.
  • Leadership at the high school level is one of the top three indicators of the potential for long-term change to sustain itself in small districts.
  • Using data to drive decision-making can be effective if the communication format focuses on what is best for kids and the presentation is small group based.
  • An Education Service District can play a significant role in district restructuring if they have maintained good communications during the good and the challenging times.

What I accomplished in my Superintendent role at Santiam Canyon:

  • I worked closely with the Board and the district legal council to clear three pending lawsuits brought against the district by past personnel.
  • Served in the role of business manager in the evaluation, recommendation and implementation of budgets cuts for a budget deficit of $570,000. I worked alongside the Linn-Benton ESD to make specific cuts, built a new budget that reduced the deficit 20%, and proposed a SY 2013-14 budget that reduced the deficit by 80%.
  • Directed the leadership group that started from ground zero in October (with a SB 90 deadline of July 1) and built a strong protocol that trained all personnel in how to use the processes for teachers’ professional growth.
  • Negotiated a new contract with a blended licensed-classified bargaining unit to meet the need to reduce the budget deficit by 15%.
  • Re-established an agricultural education program to re-enter the Future Farmers of America competitive arena after a well-respected teacher resigned.

The Santiam communities were in a transition towards hiring a new superintendent and elementary principal after the abrupt closure of its’ Gates Elementary school, the release of a principal, the abrupt request for the resignation of the superintendent and the anticipated loss of it business manager to a larger district. In the initial months I served as superintendent, business manager, elementary principal (318 students), human resources director, maintenance supervisor, and transportation director. I was responsible for the supervision of 24 elementary teachers and support staff as well as the three maintenance department personnel, four district office personnel and the high school principal.

Initially I felt this was a “hold down the fort” role as superintendent/principal, but it soon became clear that this was a “change leadership” position. The degree of unreported deficit, the continued frustration with the board on the part of the teaching staff and community meant I had to be more directive and foster accountability at the board level.

In March of 2013 I was hired to work in China beginning in August. It was an opportunity to work and travel in a country that was truly foreign to me. I chose to go overseas because it was the right time for our family and I was anxious to see what the American education system looked like from across the ocean.

Before I left Santiam Canyon I was able to usher in a fresh start, which given the circumstances was a significant move forward for the students and staff. In the spring a new superintendent/principal was hired and four of the five sitting board members either did not seek re-election or resigned. For the community recovering the pride they showed in their students and the hard work of their teachers this was the fresh start they needed.