June 18, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Licensed pilot Michael Hyder has received his principals wings.

The teacher at Culver Middle School has been named the head of Elgins Stella Mayfield School.

He has the qualities we were looking for. We had some excellent candidates, said Elgin School District Superintendent Larry Christman.

Hyder, 41, has taught at Culver Middle School for 11 years. The Culver School District has 540 students, about the same as the Elgin district. Culver is about 15 miles northwest of Redmond.

Hyder will succeed Larry Christman as principal of Stella Mayfield, a kindergarten through eighth grade school.

Christman, who is retiring, served as Elgins interim superintendent and Stella Mayfield principal this past school year.

Hyder taught many subjects including language arts, social studies, math, computer applications and drama.

He is a good communicator and is very personable, said Chris Yaeger, interim principal of Culver Middle School.

Yaeger noted that Hyder communicates well with parents, even those who are gruff at times.

Hyder is equally adept at communicating with students. Yaeger noted at least four times when he took students who were giving teachers trouble and put them in one of Hyders classes. Hyder never had problems with the students.

He kept them in line because they trusted and respected him, Yaeger said.

Yaeger, who is retired, has mentored many teachers who went on to become principals. He said Hyder is one of the most promising.

Hyder grew up in Redmond and graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove. He taught at a Navajo Indian boarding school in Northeast Arizona the first two years of his career. He had to learn the Navajo language as his students did not speak English.

Even the community radio station broadcast in the Navahos language.

I was immersed in another culture, Hyder said. ... For me it was like going to a different country.

He said the experience benefitted him greatly.

I really grew up a lot. I was looking for an experience like that. It was very enlightening, Hyder said, recalling the poverty.

You see the same things (in terms of poverty) that you see in mainstream America, but there was a higher frequency of everything, Hyder said.

The educator was impressed with how important stories are to the culture of the Navaho. He also was struck by the strong bond the people have with nature and the land.

Hyder said the language of the Navaho Indians will be preserved since many people speak it and because it has been recorded in writing by Jesuit and Franciscan priests. The priests took 50 years to translate the Bible into the language.

After leaving the Navaho boarding school, Hyder taught grade school in Meridian, Idaho, for one year before moving to Culver.

Hyder is excited about the opportunity in Elgin.

It is committed to kids and the community, Hyder said. I see Elgin as a place with a lot of potential.

Hyder said he has been impressed with how hard Elgin educators work to get students involved in the community.

That is important to me and I want to be a part of it, Hyder said.

When not at work, he enjoys flying, mountain biking and helping his children with 4-H projects.

Hyder and his wife, Joyce, have two daughters, ages 19 and 16, and a son who is 10.

At Elgin, Hyder will work under Kerma Berry, who was named earlier to succeed Christman as superintendent. Berry, will also serve as Elgin High School principal, a position she was named to last year.