Craig Swanson (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer School District)

Sprague High School Principal Craig Swanson is stepping down weeks before a new school year to take a job as principal at Lebanon High School.

"You all have helped build one of the best high schools in the state of Oregon and we continue to work together to find ways to improve," Swanson said Monday in an email to staff. "I will miss working alongside this staff to do what is best for our Sprague Olympians."

Swanson has been principal since 2015. He led Sprague to a 90% graduation rate in 2018, saw the school win multiple state music championships and helped staff and students through a difficult school year where two students died by suicide within the first month.

Swanson will stay part of the Sprague community as a parent. His daughter is entering her sophomore year.

“I’m proud, I’m confident that whoever takes this over is going to be in a really good position to be successful," he said.

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Swanson said he wasn't looking to leave Sprague, but when he saw the Lebanon job open, he was intrigued. He has family in the Albany and Lebanon area and liked the idea of working in a single high school district “where the town basically shuts down on Friday nights to go root on the football team," he said.

Former Lebanon High School principal Bradley Shreve is coming to Salem-Keizer to lead Roberts and Early College high schools.

Sprague will not have an interim principal. The district is hiring and hopes to have a principal soon, spokeswoman Lillian Govus said.

Swanson began his career as an educator teaching math and coaching sports, mostly in Albany. He's coached basketball, track and cross-country.

He came to Sprague in 2012 as an assistant principal and athletic director, then left in 2014 to spend a year as principal at John F. Kennedy High School in Mt. Angel.

One of Swanson's favorite moments at Sprague was a football game against McKay several years ago, when the northeast Salem high school was raising money for a new turf field.

The Sprague team did a cash drive to help with the effort and brought in about $3,000. Swanson got to hand-deliver "a boatload of cash" to McKay the following Monday.

Sprague Olympians won state choir and band championships in 2018, and the volleyball team has regularly qualified for state competitions.

Swanson said he's also proud of efforts to boost the percentage of students taking and passing state assessments by encouraging parents not to opt their kids out.

Last year was difficult for the school, which lost freshman Ben McMann and junior Aaron Brown to suicide early in the fall.

Swanson said those deaths spurred the Sprague community to become more supportive and look for ways to improve mental health.

"Our support network for students, staff and our community is at an all-time high right now," he said. “We can’t take our foot off that gas pedal. We’ve got to stay on top of that and make sure it’s always a priority."

The best part of his job has always been connecting with students. Swanson said he's heard from many since announcing his departure to the Sprague community.

“I’ve had students reaching out to me and that really warms my heart because I know I made an impact," Swanson said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.

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