Chad Barkes (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer School District)

One week after former Sprague High School principal Craig Swanson announced his departure, assistant principal Chad Barkes has stepped up to take the job.

Barkes, who has been an assistant principal at Sprague since 2015, said he applied after staff in the building reached out and said he should put his name in the hat.

READ: Sprague High School principal stepping down

“I get the vision, direction we were headed,” he said. “I’m a team player. I love Sprague.”

Barkes’ career in education started by accident after he completed a degree in community youth service. He planned to go into social work, but his wife, a Salem-Keizer teacher, encouraged him to become an instructional assistant instead.

He began working at Swegle Elementary in 2000 and found he loved special education. In 2003, he completed a teaching degree at Western Oregon University with a special education emphasis.

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His rise to administration was fueled mostly by others encouraging him to seek out new roles, he said.

“I didn’t really have a grand plan to do much of anything in education,” Barkes said.

He taught special education at West Salem High School for several years, then became a special education program assistant for the district for nine years.

At Sprague, he’s worked to better integrate special education students into regular classrooms and worked with staff to develop a culture of inclusion for those students.

“If a parent has a request we’re going to sit and listen,” he said.

That’s work he’s eager to continue as principal. He believes Sprague has the best model in the district for integrating special and general education.

Barkes said academically, Sprague does well, and much of his focus will be on developing better social support systems and community for students.

The school posted a 90% graduation rate in 2018, but also had two students die by suicide last fall.

“There’s been a thought process we’re immune to some things and that’s just not true,” Barkes said.

His goal as principal is to have every student “feel like this is their home,” whether because of involvement in sports, clubs, classes or another program.

Barkes coached Sprague’s boys soccer team in 2001 and 2002 and has also served as the school’s athletic director. Outside the classroom, he said the school’s volleyball match against Central Catholic last fall was one of his best moments at Sprague.

The team, seeded sixth in the state tournament, beat number three seed Central Catholic 21-19 in the quarterfinals, according to the Statesman Journal.

“I get goosebumps just talking about it because the atmosphere … was like a perfect mix of what you want in high school athletics,” he said. “You just saw the grit.”

To fill Barkes’ old job, Sprague has hired part-time assistant principal Mickey Toft, a McNary High School graduate who most recently worked as an interim assistant principal in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

Toft has also coached sports at Sprague, North Salem and McKay.

Barkes said he’s grateful for the staff support in his new job.

“I feel privileged,” he said. It’s “hard not to want to be someplace where people want you.”

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