Cathy Lehmann hopes to bring stability to the Mount Pleasant School District, which has undergone a series of leadership changes since the end of the 2019-20 school year.
“(The board members and I) did talk about my goals for the position,” said Lehmann, who was named as the district’s superintendent/principal earlier this year. “(I told them that) I want to be here and that I’m excited for this opportunity. I don’t feel that I’m ‘interim’ or traveling through to somewhere else. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay. I think that stability is going to be important for Mount Pleasant because of the amount of changes that they’ve had over the last few years.”
Lehmann worked for the North Clackamas (Oregon) School District for 32 years as a special education director, teacher and principal before retiring in 2019. For the past three years, she served as an administrative substitute for the Vancouver School District and North Clackamas School District.
“Over her career, she has worked to build systems that provide relevant, engaging and equitable learning opportunities for all students,” according to the Mount Pleasant School District’s website. “Although Cathy has always felt at home in the classroom, it is her position as an elementary principal where she has been most fulfilled in her life’s work. She is looking forward to meeting and working together with our Mount Pleasant School community.”
Lehmann is the district’s fourth superintendent/principal in the past four years. After Vicky Prendergast retired after the 2019-20 school year, Ray Griffin served in the dual role in 2020-21, with Milt Dennison holding the positions on an interim basis in 2021-22.
“I’m still wanting to be really involved in education,” Lehmann said. “Even through retirement, I was looking for ways to connect and be a part of a school community and contribute. This seems like a really vibrant community that’s moving forward and is ready to have somebody new come in and help them with that.”
Lehmann is “excited” to work for a small district such as Mount Pleasant, which provides educational services to roughly 65 K-8 students in a small facility located about 7 miles east of downtown Washougal in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
“I think there’s a lot that you can do in a small district that caters to what your community and your students want and need in their education,” she said. “A small school has that ability to reach more into what the kids are wanting from their education and what the community is wanting from the school, and gives you kind of a unique opportunity to have a smaller class size, a little more personalized education experience for kids.”
Lehmann, in fact, believes that a small-school environment will actually enhance some of her best qualities.
“I think that one of my greatest strengths is community-building and connecting with people,” she said. “That’s always been a big part of why I like working in schools — bringing people together, focusing on what’s important to the kids and how to connect back to higher standards. It is exciting to me to be able to connect with so many people. In a big system, you connect with a lot of people, but you don’t have that ongoing ability to go deeper with them. In a small school, the opportunity is there to be able to really connect with people.”
Those kinds of connections keep bringing Lehmann back to school, even after all of these years.
“I love watching kids’ eyes light up when they get something for the first time or they make a connection in learning,” she said. “I think there’s no greater place to be than in the classroom when kids are starting to ‘get it’ and ignite that learning (process). From the time that I was in college and first volunteered in an elementary classroom until now, that’s why I love education. I love the kids and seeing what’s happening with them. And then being able to impact that learning at a bunch of different levels and in a bunch of different areas, I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to do that. And it’s kind of what keeps me wanting to do things like, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to go back into a building, and Mount Pleasant seems like a really great place to do that.’ I still get to be a part of learning again.”
Lehmann is familiar and comfortable with one of her new roles, but is learning the other one for the first time. Fortunately for her, she’s received some much-appreciated assistance along the way.
“The superintendent role is very new to me,” she said. “(I’m) just getting to understand what the scope of that is, the superintendency role for a small district in Washington — it’s a very different structure. I’m having to learn the finance side of it; all of those resources that you have in a large district, you don’t have in a district this size. So for me right now, it’s a big learning (process) of who to reach out to and how to understand the system.
“The people at the Educational Services District 112 have been wonderful. Every time I have reached out for information, they’re very willing to share and explain the system to me, so that’s been great. And the board here has been very welcoming; (they said), ‘Here’s the direction and you make it happen.’ They feel very supportive in their role.”
When Lehmann is not working, she can be found spending time with her husband and her daughter, a Washington State University student, according to the district.