Sharp set to retire, cap decades-long career at Vale School District

Vale High School Principal Mary Jo Sharp will step into the ranks of the retired at the end of this school year. Sharp said she will miss interacting with students the most. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

VALE – When she became a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons at the Vale City Pool, Mary Jo Sharp didn’t know she would someday become a teacher – but even as a teen, she knew she liked to be prepared.

“I can remember doing kind of a lesson plan,” said Sharp about teaching swimming lessons.

She understood then teaching “was something that comes very naturally to me.”

“I love working with kids, helping them know they can be successful,” said Sharp.

Sharp, 57, the longtime principal at Vale High School, will step down from her post at the end of the school year and close the door on a three-decade career as a local educator. The Vale School District is now seeking someone to succeed Sharp.

Retirement, she said, is something she’s “been thinking about for a while.”

“I really feel privileged to introduce myself as the principal of Vale High School and I think I will miss that. I will also definitely miss the interaction with students,” she said.

Sharp was born and raised in Vale and graduated from Vale in 1983. After graduation, she attended Treasure Valley Community College but said she “wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”

After a year at Boise State University, where she studied retail business, Sharp moved to Arizona where she worked in a teacher supply store. Sharp said her desire to become a teacher then blossomed.

“Watching all of those teachers be really excited about the start of the school year, I decided retail (business) couldn’t be a career for me,” said Sharp.

She decided to move back to Oregon and attend Eastern Oregon University, where she earned a degree in education.

Sharp grew up in an education household – her mother and father were both teachers – but her path to the Vale School District wasn’t direct even after she earned her degree.

After meeting her husband, Greg, at Eastern, Sharp said the couple moved to Alabama. There Greg Sharp acquired a master’s degree in sports management.

“Then he got an internship at Bend, so we moved,” said Sharp.

Sharp said she was in Bend when a call came from the Vale School District’s Ina Sypher about teaching a business class at the high school.

Sharp accepted the job almost immediately and in the late 1990s she and Greg moved back to Vale.

She then made her way up the ranks in the district – first as principal of the middle school – before she was selected as the high school principal in 2008.

Sharp said there are slices of her job that stand out.

“I honestly love lunchtime. I love the fact I can sit out there on lunch and visit with the kids one-on-one and get to know who they are what they are interested in,” said Sharp.

Sporting events are particularly poignant, said Sharp.

“I love going to basketball and volleyball and football games and watching the kids perform. It isn’t about winning but about watching them grow,” said Sharp.

Sharp won’t classify herself as a workaholic but she admits she is firmly focused on her role.

“I do have a hard time putting it (her job) away. I always answer my phone or come down and open the door is someone needs a book,” she said.

Sharp said her desire to “stay on top of things” motivates her.

“I want to be proactive not reactive. To think about solutions. I think that is a great motivator. I also have a great staff,” she said.

Sharp, who generally arrives at the school at 7 a.m. and leaves around 5 p.m., said significant moments in her career arrive every spring at graduation.

“When I watch those kids go across the stage at graduation, there is always somebody I feel like I’ve made a connection with, that I’ve been able to help, maybe help them see they can be successful. That makes this job great,” said Sharp.

Sharp’s career included dealing with the unprecedented impacts of the Covid pandemic.

“It was challenging,” said Sharp.

Sharp said she felt the district consistently did a good job educating youth and of involving the community but Covid created unique difficulties that hammered at those two attributes.

“I think that through Covid we sometimes couldn’t always do what maybe a lot of people felt like we should do,” said Sharp.

Sharp said at the same time, the complications from Covid to in-person education for students also created distinctive opportunities.

“It was kind of exciting for us to really take a look at our curriculum and pull out what part of the curriculum we thought was important,” said Sharp.

Still, Covid took a toll, said Sharp, “just because things were difficult for the kids and we were trying to navigate that emotional roller coaster that came with it.”

Sharp said she hopes parents and other patrons of the district understand teachers and administrators “try to do the best job we can.”

“Yes, we make mistakes, but I hope I have modeled that when we do make mistakes, we own them and try to do better the next day,” said Sharp.

In her 30-year career, Sharp said she’s learned a lot about people.

“I think I’ve learned how to look at someone different, not be judgmental and process where they might be coming from. What you see on the surface, because there is always a story, you just can’t assume you know something about somebody,” said Sharp.

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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