Change of major in college leads to education career
by Randy Parks
Noting that it “feels a little bit like where I began,” Charlie Beck has taken over the position of Superintendent of the Harney Education Service District (ESD).
Beck, 57, was hired in late May and began work July 1.
Beck is no stranger to an agricultural area, having grown up on a wheat farm in Eastern Washington. He graduated from Central Valley High School near Spokane, Wash., and then began a career as a building contractor.
When the construction business slowed, Beck changed his career direction and enrolled at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Wash., with the intention of becoming a technical writer.
While Beck was at WSU, one of his instructors asked him if he had ever thought about going into teaching. Beck admitted that he had not, and the instructor told him he could pick up three credits if he spent about two hours a day helping out in an industrial arts class at a Pullman middle school.
While at the middle school, Beck discovered he had a way of working with kids in a positive manner, and changed his major at age 30.
Once he had attained his degree, Beck started his career as an agricultural and industrial arts teacher, which took him from St. Helens to Monroe and then to North Douglas High School in Drain.
After teaching for seven years at North Douglas, Beck became principal, and served in that position for three years.
Beck then served as director of secondary schools in Springfield for five years, and as chief academic officer, or assistant superintendent, in the Bend-La Pine school district for seven years.
Beck then began to explore superintendent possibilities and accepted the position at Hood River, where he served for three years.
Beck said he and his wife, Kristine, who works for the Multnomah ESD, decided they were in a position to retire, and would relocate back to Central Oregon.
“I wasn’t really finished, but I wasn’t sure of what to do,” Beck said. “Then I saw this position (Harney ESD) open up, and it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Beck spends two-and-a-half days in Harney County, and the rest of the week in the Bend area. Kristine, who retires in December, heads for Portland on Monday and returns on Thursday, giving the couple long weekends together.
“We do a lot of outdoor activities, like kayaking, rock-climbing and skiing, so it works out well,” Beck said.
The couple has five grown children among them from previous marriages, as well as 12 grandchildren.
Beck calls his new position “a good fit” that takes him back to his roots in agriculture, industrial arts and small school districts.
His skill set is also an asset, combining the organizational skills of a large school district with the understanding of a small town.
“I’m very comfortable sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, visiting with folks,” Beck said.
Beck said he is very impressed with what he has seen from the ESD so far, and is looking to increase the efficiency of the district.
The administrative services will all be combined in the ESD Regional Center at Fairview Heights, and Beck wants to look at the services and see if the district could be doing more.
Beck is also committed to being a strong advocate of Harney ESD at the state level. He has previously testified before the Oregon Senate Education Committee, and said he wants to raise the profile of Harney ESD so, “Salem knows what we do here, and our mission.”
Beck said the ESD is a very important part of the county’s education because of the geography factor. He noted the amount of time it takes to get to the outer-lying areas, and if they tried to provide service from elsewhere in the state, the service would be compromised.
“The rural schools reflect the culture of the community and the county, and visiting each district is important to know what each district needs,” Beck said.
He added that he was impressed with the rural districts and the quality of education they provide for students, noting that they send a high number of their students off to college, and they’re proud of the careers the graduates pursue.
Beck said the work done by the staff at Harney ESD over the years has been “incredible,” and he would like to raise the profile of the ESD.
He said ESDs as a whole don’t get the publicity that the high schools do, but rather work behind the scenes.
“I want to be a cheerleader for the ESD,” Beck said. “Attend public events, meetings, and let people know why we’re here and what we’re doing.”
Services provided locally by Harney ESD include special education, early childhood services, speech and language pathology, school psychology, technology services, help and guidance with curriculum adoption and professional development, financial and facilities consultation to rural districts, and administrative support.
While his career has taken him to several districts through the years, he can envision this as his last stop.
“This is a nice community. Everybody’s been very friendly,” Beck said. “I hope to be here until the time I’m really ready to retire.”