Dale Rooklyn, 55, will retire as principal of Ashland Middle School this year after 18 years, but that doesn't mean he's disappearing from school.

He plans to stick around for the summer to see the completion of the middle school cafeteria construction and then volunteer, both inside and outside the Ashland district. Next year, he would like to mentor high school students through the ASPIRE program and train to be an administrative coach, working with principals across the state.

Rooklyn, who moved to Ashland in 1979 to teach high school English, was named assistant principal of what was then the junior high in 1985 and moved up to principal in 1990.

Teachers who worked with him throughout his tenure said he has helped the school through major changes and will be missed.

"Dale is really the master of change, and he embraces new ideas and new directions," said Susan Baird, who has taught at AMS since 1983. "He's really worked hard with the staff to help us be flexible and work with change."

Big changes

The biggest transformation he oversaw was the shift from a junior high to a middle school, with more emphasis on small learning teams, introduction of a no-cuts sports program, encouraging more students to get involved in student leadership and replacing night dances with more age-appropriate social activities.

"That has made the most significant impact on the education for kids ages 10 to 14," Rooklyn said. "When you're a junior high, you're kind of mini high school, and you're taking a program that's not appropriate for kids that age. We're truly a transition between elementary and high school now."

Although many final decisions are made by a leadership team, staff members said Rooklyn has always helped them adjust to the unfamiliar.

"He's good at taking a change that is perceived as something that's really going to cause problems and turn it into a positive," said Brent Freeman, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math. "A lot of it isn't so much that he invented the things, but he's always been open and willing to try."

Open to innovation

What Rooklyn really does is give staff and students plenty of freedom to be innovative, Freeman said. For example, teams of teachers can decide to do a special week-long project with their students or take a series of field trips, and they are given a fairly sizeable discretionary to do so. When students wanted to skateboard at lunch a few years ago, Rooklyn gave them the go-ahead, as long as they wore helmets.

"He's open to a lot of things where at a lot of other schools the answer is 'no' before it gets out of the kid's mouth," Freeman said. "Doing something new is just part of the culture here."

Teachers also credit Rooklyn with getting computers on teachers' desks long before most high schools had them and continuing to introduce new technology, serving as a tech expert as well as principal.

Looking ahead

For all the praise he has garnered, Rooklyn would rather shy away from the limelight. He earned a Ph.D. in organization development from the University of Oregon in 1996, but his staff said he is still as approachable as ever, and students can call him Mr. Rooklyn or just Dale.

"I've always just enjoyed being around kids," he said. "That's always been my passion."

After Rooklyn departs, current assistant principal Steve Retzlaff will take his place, and Doug Geygan, an eighth-grade teacher from Bend, will fill Retzlaff's shoes.

The highly student-centered philosophy at the middle school, cultivated by Rooklyn, was part of what made the position attractive, Geygan said.

Rooklyn said he felt blessed to be part of the Ashland School District and a community supportive of education. The future of the school is in strong hands, he said.

"I'm able to leave this campus knowing that it will continue to grow and thrive," he said. "Steve is going to do a wonderful job. I'm really excited that the transition is going to be seamless."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .