Trading spaces

Two educators try out new jobs

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Local students are not the only ones getting used to a new schedule and classes.

One administrator has made the switch to the classroom, and a long-time middle school principal has stepped into her place.

Rita Pakenen, who has worked in the Camas School District for 11 years as its human resources director, began teaching at Camas High School this fall. Marilyn Boerke, who served as the Liberty Middle School principal for 10 years, is now the human resources director.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Pakenen said. “However, life doesn’t always go where you think it will. At this point in my life, my daughter is done with school and recently married, and my husband is recently retired, so it seemed like it is my time to become a teacher.”

Boerke, a Camas resident, has spent her entire 25-year career in the classroom or as a principal, so making the switch to human resources director has had its share of challenges.

“It was really difficult to leave the staff and students at Liberty,” she said. “But my whole career has been about seeing the possibility of making a difference, and this particular shift allows me to facilitate teaching and learning from a different perspective.”

For the past year, Boerke has met with Pakenen on several occasions to learn more about the position.

“I bring the viewpoint of a building principal, teacher and secretary to the central office, which can sometimes be somewhat removed from what’s happening every day in classrooms across our district,” she said. “I feel that I can assist with streamlining processes and anticipate challenges when discussing new initiatives, because I have very fresh experience at the building level and understand the impact those decisions can have.”

Pakenen, a Vancouver resident who has a 17 year background in human resources for various industries, chose to teach in the career and technical education field because of her experience working with employees.

“My goal is to help kids learn about work and opportunities after high school with the hopes of them being successful,” she said. “The skills needed to be a good student are very similar to the skills needed to be a successful employee.”

This year, she is teaching college and career preparedness classes for freshmen, Freshman Success Academy, and iQcu Financial Services.

“The best part is by far the kids,” she said. “I absolutely love getting to spend my days with them. I have a feeling they will teach me way more than I teach them.”

Pakenen’s two biggest challenges are organization and curriculum.

“I’m teaching four classes in three different classroooms, and haven’t mastered the organization needed for this position and these circumstances,” she said. “I’m working with two other great teachers, and we’re only about a week or so ahead of the kids. We know what to teach, but we’re working on developing the lesson plans together so that all ninth-graders have a similar in-class experience.”

Boerke describes her new job as having a “steep learning curve.”

“Practices and laws related to human resources are vast and intricate,” she said. “I also miss my Liberty ‘family’ immensely and the students who made every day for the last 25 years lively and unpredictable.”

However, Boerke still gets her “kid fix,” as she puts it, as Superintendnet Jeff Snell is focused on linking the central office more closely with schools.

“The best part about this job is the team I get to work with every day,” she said. “They are hard workers, extremely knowledgeable, and very gracious with me in this transition. I’m lucky to get to work among them.”

Snell notes that the changes have been positive for both employees and the district.

“Marilyn is an outstanding leader who loves learning,” he said. “She has a huge heart that’s focused on kids and families. Her compassion, humility and empathy, combined with her skills of facilitation made her a great principal and have already served her well in the role of human resource director.”

He continued, “Rita supported the district for eleven years as HR director. That experience is difficult to replace. I think it’s pretty cool that she followed her passion to teach, but I miss getting to see her on a daily basis.”