2022 Golden Apple Recipient: Kelsey Hibbert


KELSEY HIBBERT

Resume: Hibbert is the dean of students at Linus Pauling Middle School. For her first job in the Corvallis School District, she split her time between teaching duties at Linus Pauling and Cheldelin Middle School and then went to Linus Pauling full-time.

Family: Husband, Matt Hibbert. Daughter, Paycie, 9.

Hobbies: She played volleyball at Corvallis High School and now is coaching Paycie’s team at the Boys and Girls Club in Lebanon. Other pastimes: “I like to read. I like to be out in the sun in the summer. I like being in the water. … The sun and the water, that’s what I do in the summer to relax.”

Book she’s currently reading: “The Book of Two Ways,” Jodi Picoult’s 2020 novel. 

From the Golden Apple nomination: “She has created a space in the (Linus Pauling) Student Center where students feel comfortable, where they feel heard and supported, and where they are able to solve some of their unusual problems. There is a reason why students seek her out; her relationships with them are positive and kind.”

By MIKE McINALLY

Kelsey Hibbert thought there was something fishy going on. Hibbert, the dean of students at Linus Pauling Middle School, was talking in her office with Nancy Hausen, the school’s steward and lead custodian, when an announcement came about an unexpected 15-minute meeting later in the day.

That was suspicious: A meeting that lasted just 15 minutes? Curious.

Later, the plot thickened: Hibbert was walking a student to class on the school’s second floor and was about to head down the stairs when she was interrupted: “Somebody was like, ‘You can’t walk this way,’ and took me in a different direction down the stairs.”

Strange. But Hibbert shook it off – it was just another day. “None of that really can throw you off too far, because it is school,” she said – and every day brings something unexpected.

In Hibbert’s case, this school day in March included something unexpected about her – and the mystery cleared up as she got down to the ground floor for the meeting. The hallway was lined with cheering students. Her husband, Matt, and 9-year-old daughter, Paycie, were on hand; neither typically attends meetings at Linus Pauling.

But they were there to see Hibbert honored as one of the 2022 winners of the Golden Apple awards given by the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation to outstanding teachers and staff members in the Corvallis School District. The “meeting” was a surprise gathering to honor her. (Hausen also won a Golden Apple that day and will be the subject of a later profile.)

“I was embarrassed,” Hibbert recalled, “but it was embarrassing in a good way. The attention on me is not what I’m used to or super-comfortable with. It was nice, but it was also like, ‘OK, how can I hide?’”

Unexpected events at Linus Pauling don’t often focus on Hibbert – but they do occur every day at the middle school. Hibbert, now in her fifth year as the school’s dean of students, says that’s part of the appeal of the job. 

In an interview in her office on a recent sunny Wednesday morning, Hibbert said some days are “super-crazy. … Today’s already been a day.”

But even the most hectic days hinge on the connections she’s able to build with Linus Pauling students. 

“I just really love the kids,” she said. “I feel like that’s a little bit cliché to say, but those connections with kids are so important to me and it is so nice to see kids grow, to see kids learn, see kids realize their worth, if they didn’t before, and help them see how far they can get, what they can become.”

In fact, it was a connection with a Corvallis High School teacher that played a big role in shaping Hibbert’s career. She was born and raised in Corvallis and attended the old Lincoln School, Western View Middle School and the old Corvallis High School, where, as a senior, she took a child-development class with Kristen Hackethorn (who’s still a teacher at the school). “We had a really good connection,” Hibbert said, “and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a teacher.” 

She wanted at first to be a kindergarten teacher but switched her sights to high school after a couple of years at college. Then, as she started her student teaching (at the middle-school level), she decided to earn her certification to teach in middle school.

Then, as it turned out, a middle-school job opened.

Well, really, two jobs: For her first eight years in the district, she split her time teaching family and consumer science both at Linus Pauling and Cheldelin middle schools. She took her prep time to drive between the two schools. Sometimes, because she was teaching family and consumer science, she also had to find time to shop for groceries for the classes. “It was,” she recalled, “kind of crazy.”

Crazy or not, she was still making the kinds of connections with students that she finds rewarding even to his day.

“You know, I don’t even know if I would teach high school now,” she said. “I love middle school so much. … I think I’m able to make a connection with the middle schoolers that I don’t know I could do with the high schoolers.”

That love helps to animate even the most difficult conversations she has with students. 

“It’s like, we love you too much to let you act a certain way. We love you too much to let you go down this path, which is why we’re going to support you. That’s how I felt like as a teacher too – I have a love for these students, and so I’m going to do all I can to support them in what they need.”

Many of those conversations take place within the Student Center at Linus Pauling, where Hibbert has her office. 

“We try to make this a student-led space,” she said, and the idea is to give students different choices to solve problems. “So what do you need right now? Maybe you need five minutes of quiet. Maybe you need to talk with someone. Maybe you want to write to us about what you need if you don’t want to talk.”

Not all of Hibbert’s work takes place within the Student Center, of course, and she prides herself on getting out and about in the school. She runs the student store, where students can earn trinkets like Jibbitz (charms for Croc shoes) and fidget spinners for positive behavior. Teachers nominate students for positive behavior, and she makes sure those references are shared with the school’s principals. Every week, she prepares lessons about behavior expectations for Linus Pauling students.

It all keeps her busy. But even on the craziest days, it boils down to forging meaningful connections with students.

“We keep doing it because of those things, even when it’s crazy,” she said. “And I just think that is the part that I love the most about it: We keep trucking, we just keep doing it, because what needs to be done is what’s best and good for kids.”