Principals Suzanne Leonard, left, Julia DeWitt and Andrew Schiefer will take over new Salem-Keizer middle schools in the fall of 2020 (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer School District)

Houck Middle School will have a new administration in the fall, part of a district effort to shift the school’s focus to helping students struggling with trauma and difficult life circumstances. 

Julia DeWitt, currently the principal of Whiteaker Middle School, is taking over at Houck. Joining her as assistant principals will be George Sanchez, a former Salem-Keizer behavior specialist who’s now an assistant principal at an Albany Middle School, and Brian Storrs, who previously worked for the district as a social studies teacher, according to a news release. 

The administration changes are part of a plan to reshape services for students at Houck by adding more counselors and community outreach workers, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said.  

Those plans are now on hold due to expected budgetary challenges, but Govus said a new administration can help lay the groundwork to make changes when state money is available. 

“Having a new team is important when you’re trying to spur change in any school,” she said. 

Nearly all Houck students are low-income, with six in 10 raised speaking a language other than English at home. Earlier this spring, a group of Houck students who had been regulars in detention self-published a book of poetry and essays describing their experiences with parents in prison, eviction, domestic violence and struggling to get enough to eat at home. 

Those demographics make the school ripe for providing more social services and other help to students outside the classroom, Govus said. 

Under a plan approved by the school board in February to spend an expected $36 million in new state education funding, Salem-Keizer would have hired extra employees to offer those services at Houck. 

But the source of that money, Oregon’s new Student Investment Account, is funded by a corporate activity tax that’s brought in much less money than expected in recent months due to the economic slowdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Two other Salem-Keizer middle schools will have new principals in the fall. Houck’s current principal, Suzanne Leonard, is taking over at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer. 

At Crossler Middle School, assistant principal Andy Shiefer will replace retiring principal Kristine Walton. 

Govus said the district will announce any principal changes at elementary schools in the coming weeks. 

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