13 Salem, Keizer schools will start the year with new principals

North Salem and McNary high schools will have new principals this school year, along with a handful of middle and elementary schools in the Salem-Keizer School District.

District leaders announced a slate of administrative changes ahead for the 2023-24 school year. Students head back to school Sept. 5.

Here’s a roundup of new faces in school leadership.


Scott Gragg, McNary High School

Gragg has spent seven years at McNary, working as the school’s assistant principal and athletic director since 2017.

He’s a graduate of Silverton High School and played in the NFL from 1995-2005 as an offensive tackle for the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.

Gragg replaces longtime McNary principal Erik Jespersen, who is moving into a district administrator role overseeing curriculum and instruction. Jespersen spent nine years as McNary’s principal.

Dustin Purnell, North Salem High School

Purnell comes to North after an eight-year stint as principal of Parrish Middle School. He replaces Chad Towe, who left the district for a principal job in Washington after three years at North.

Purnell graduated from Corban University and taught business at Sprague High School before moving into administrative roles. He told Salem Reporter he wants to focus on re-engaging students in school and refining the school’s systems for tracking student progress toward graduation.

Christi Cheever, Parrish Middle School

Cheever is being promoted from her current job as assistant principal at Parrish. She’s worked in the district for about two decades, mostly in elementary schools, starting her career as a bilingual teacher at Kennedy Elementary School.

Cheever was the longtime principal of Highland Elementary School before moving to Parrish.

Christi Cheever, former principal of Highland Elementary School, watches a student work on a math exercise in 2019. (Fred Joe/Special to Salem Reporter)

Robin Buckingham, Claggett Creek Middle School

Buckingham comes to Claggett Creek from South Salem High School and has been a district administrator for six years. She began teaching in Salem in 2008 at Leslie Middle School and has previously been an instructional mentor and middle school assistant principal.

Jen Williams, Crossler Middle School

Williams has spent three years as Crossler’s assistant principal. She began working for the district as a senior at McNary High School with an office job. In 2003, she became a teacher at Leslie Middle School and worked there until 2012 before becoming an instructional mentor at Parrish Middle School.

“Jen has developed a strong commitment to building relationships, removing barriers for student access, and fostering a strong sense of belonging for all students, staff, and families,” the district said in a statement.

Taylor Cooper, Lamb Elementary

Cooper is currently Lamb’s assistant principal and has worked as a teacher and mentor, as well as holding jobs working on district systems intended to support students struggling academically. She has previously been an assistant principal at Mary Eyre Elementary School.

“Taylor has a passion for strong communication and collaboration in order to do what is best for students. She firmly believes that all students can learn and deserve access to rigorous instruction. Building strong relationships with staff, families, and students is her priority,” the district announcement said.

Corina Valencia-Cushman, Hammond Elementary

Valencia-Cushman has been principal of Mary Eyre Elementary School and began her career as a bilingual teacher at Grant Elementary School in 2000. She grew up in Mexico and completed school to ninth grade before coming to Oregon and finishing her education and teacher credentials.

Balencia-Cushman has been a principal for 14 years. She “believes that collective efficacy and shared leadership are key factors in creating a school environment that provides opportunities for rigorous student engagement in academic, and in social-emotional learning and instruction,” the district announcement said.

Janet Pratts, Battle Creek Elementary

Pratts has been principal at Sumpter Elementary School for 15 years and is now moving to Battle Creek.

“Her belief is that students excel in welcoming school environments that embrace their families. Janet prioritizes and values building trusting relationships, collaboration, and creating leadership opportunities for all stakeholders in the school community,” the district announcement said. “She will miss the community of Sumpter that she has led for 15 years, but she is also ready and looks forward to sharing her skills and passion for education with Battle Creek Elementary School this next school year.”

Marc Morris, Sumpter Elementary

Morris has been a school principal for 18 years, first at Mary Eyre Elementary School, then at Grant Community School, one of the first bilingual elementary schools in the district. He’s been in education for 27 years working with students of all ages.

Katie Shumway, Eyre Elementary

Shumway has been an elementary school principal in Salem since 2015, first at McKinley Elementary, and then for six years at Auburn Elementary.

She spent 11 years as an elementary school teacher before coming to Salem, mostly in the Dallas School District.

Amanda Johnson, Auburn Elementary

Johnson began her career in local schools as an instructional assistant and then a bilingual teacher, She taught for 12 years before becoming a mentor teacher and became Auburn’s assistant principal last year.

Stephanie Russell, Grant Elementary

Russell is the current Myers Elementary principal and has worked in the district since 2007. She started at Weddle Elementary as a bilingual teacher.

“Stephanie is passionate about equitable education for all students, partnering with families, empowering staff, and cultivating a positive school climate. She is grateful for the connections she has made over the years and values all of the relationships she has forged with colleagues and families, both past and present. She looks forward to building relationships with her new school community,” the district announcement said.

Mandy Pack – Principal, Myers Elementary

Pack has worked in education for 23 years, including as a classroom teacher, mentor, behavior specialist and Swegle Elementary’s assistant principal.

“Known for her warm and approachable nature, Mandy fosters strong connections with students, families, and staff alike, promoting open lines of communication and collaboration. She is honored to serve in and partner with the Myers community,” the district announcement said.

Other new administrators

Erik Jespersen, K-12 Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Jespersen is moving to the district role after nine years as McNary’s principal.

Gwen Bruey-Finck, Human Resources Director of Strategic Initiatives

Bruey-Finck replaces the retiring Steve Nelson, coming to the job from her previous role as Secondary Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

High school assistant principals

Derick Handley – Assistant Principal, North Salem High School

Nicole Hendricks – Assistant Principal, South Salem High School

Artonya Gemmill – Assistant Principal, Early College High School and Roberts

Michael Simental – Assistant Principal, West Salem High School

Tyler Lalack – Assistant Principal, Sprague High School

Mark Harris – Assistant Principal, North Salem High School

Clinton Gertenrich – Assistant Principal, Sprague High School

Jim Miller – Athletic Director, Sprague High School

Middle school assistant principals

Tracy Carbajal – Assistant Principal, Parrish Middle School

Craig King – Assistant Principal, Houck Middle School

Stacie Creighton – Assistant Principal, Waldo Middle School

Brain Storrs – Assistant Principal, Judson Middle School

Shirley Richardson – Assistant Principal, Houck Middle School

Lynn Barry – Assistant Principal, Crossler Middle School

Correction: This article was updated to reflect Gwen Bruey-Finck’s correct former title. She was previously director of secondary curriculum and instruction, not K-12 curriculum and instruction. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.