North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon asked himself a question several years ago that forced him to make a U-turn in a real and figurative sense.

Dixon, who had been North Powder’s superintendent for several years, was driving to Baker City to apply for a position with the Baker School District when he realized just how deeply he loved his job, school district and community.

“I said to myself, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ Then I turned around in Haines (and came back to North Powder),” said Dixon, who is completing his 14th year as North Powder Superintendent.

Years have passed since that day and the North Powder School District is now in perhaps the best position in its history.

And the education world is taking notice.

Dixon recently was presented with the InterMountain Education Service District’s prestigious Doug Flatt Memorial Award. The honor is given annually to one education administrator in the IMESD’s service area, which primarily encompasses Union, Umatilla and Morrow counties.

The award recognizes a number of successful projects Dixon has led in the North Powder School District including the construction of a $6 million high school classroom building and gym, a structure now virtually completed. The high school and gym were built with money from a state grant and a $3 million bond voters approved in 2017.

“Lance is the only person I know who could pull this off (get a large bond passed) because of the trust he has built in the community,” said IMESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill.

The new high school will replace the present classroom building, which was constructed more than 100 years ago. It has not been determined what will be done with the old school building once the new one opens in August.

The construction of the high school and gym are among many capital projects Dixon has helped lead and oversee in the North Powder School District. They include the construction of a cafeteria at North Powder Elementary School, which is used by the entire district, the addition of several classrooms in the elementary school and a new high school career technical education lab now being completed.

In addition, Powder Valley High School has annual graduation rates of at least 90 percent and the school district’s students are turning in solid performances on state assessment tests.

Dixon emphasized that what has been accomplished in the North Powder School District is an indication of what many people beyond himself have done.

“While I will always treasure this award, I know that only with the effort of many staff, board members and community support have I been able to accomplish most of the things for which I have received recognition. This award is a reflection of the work and hours put in by many others, and I am grateful for all they do,” Dixon said.

He said the award is also credit to his wife, Suzi, and their family.

“Being an administrator’s spouse is not easy, but Suzi has stuck by me through thick and thin since 1986. My kids have been understanding when Dad had to miss a game, concert or could not go camping for the weekend. I would not be where I am today without my wife and children being rocks to lean on.”

The superintendent said that in addition to his family and staff, those who have helped him in a big way include administrators like Mulvihill and Gerald Hopkins, whom Dixon worked under at the start of his career in Huntington.

“Dr. Hopkins taught me one principle that still drives me today — you have to have children and teachers to have a school, (so) take care of them first,” Dixon said.

Hopkins, who later worked under Dixon at North Powder as principal, was delighted when he heard someone he had mentored was receiving the Doug Flatt Memorial Award.

“I darn near cried when I heard he had won it. He truly deserved it,” said Hopkins, who is now retired and lives in Summerville.

Mulvihill said it is unusual for a superintendent to serve as long in a school district as Dixon has. He explained that in many cases superintendents may find themselves at odds with some people in a community after several years because of controversial decisions they have had to make.

See complete story in Friday's Observer