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  • John Franco


Grants Pass School District: building a community through hope, engagement and resiliency

The COVID-19 crisis has created an environment where the capability, creativity and resilience of all those in leadership positions around the globe are being tested. As superintendent of Oregon’s Grants Pass School District, Kirk Kolb has positioned himself as one of the community’s most dedicated to making sure wraparound services are available to help all families keep their head above water during this time of extreme uncertainty.

Since schools closed for in-person instruction in March, Grants Pass SD has distributed over 175,000 meals, checked out more than 3,500 Chromebooks, and even used its career-technical education resources to build face shields for local healthcare workers in need of personal protective equipment.

“There are a lot of people coming together in a lot of ways to ensure the GPSD community can continue to thrive no matter the challenges we face.” —Kirk Kolb, Superintendent

“Since I became superintendent, one of my biggest things was that we as a district were integral to our community,” Kolb says. “Being a part of the community effort in meeting the needs of our families has been a big thing for us, even before COVID. My door is always open, and we are always here ready to lend a hand to our families.”

A big part of what sets his community apart is the resilience shown by everyone from administrators, to teachers, to families, to students. There is no doubt that the way the Grants Pass community has stepped up to help its own during the pandemic has been a clear testament to the work that Kolb and his team in GPSD have put in to create a culture of collaboration.

The district has been working with every possible community partner—from the YMCA, to the Boys & Girls Club, to local faith-based groups—to increase access to childcare for low-income families. Kolb says the district will be delivering food to the organizations that have opened their doors to GPSD students so that children who aren’t on campus can still get their school meals.

“There are a lot of people coming together in a lot of ways to ensure the GPSD community can continue to thrive no matter the challenges we face. We know that more of our families are likely struggling with job or housing loss and extreme stress than before as a result of the pandemic,” Kolb says. “Our district has specialists at each campus that can connect families to a large variety of services and resources to address food, housing, employment, and mental and physical health needs. Through the partnerships the district has built with local organizations and agencies, we can help connect students and their families to just about any resource even if services aren’t available at their own school site.”

That level of collaboration has served as an example to the rest of the community. In addition to all the support that the district is providing in terms of childcare, Kolb says he has heard of families working together so that parents can go to work some days and keep an eye on their own and their neighbors’ children on other days.

It is perhaps no wonder that his district has become a centerpiece to the community—it is all built upon a foundation of teamwork, trust and respect. “My leadership style is very much a democratic or shared style. I ultimately make the final decisions, but I gather input and opinions and that factors largely into my decisions,” he explains. “I also believe in servant leadership, so I need to be taking care of others in their roles and figuring out what that looks like for different people depending on their needs.”

Even though the pandemic has been devastating for communities across the country, Kolb says the Grants Pass community has come together in ways that give him hope that they will all come out on the other side of this stronger than before. That’s why, at the bottom of every email he sends to staff, families and local organizations, Kolb signs off: “Fostering Hope, Engagement, and Resiliency for the Community of Grants Pass.”

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