Doug Ardiana jokes that he’s spent the last 51 years going to school. This week, that streak will end.
Ardiana, the superintendent of the Bandon School District, will close out a 33-year career in graduation when he does what he always has – greeting every student who arrives to school and waving at the buses when they drive away.
Ardiana will step into retirement knowing he gave his all to students, the last six years in Bandon after more than 26 in Montana. And he will retire the same way he taught, his own way.
For Ardiana, that meant getting up and personal with students.
“One of my hallmark Mr. Ardiana things is to be at the buses every morning and greet every student with a smile,” Ardiana said. “I’ve done that everywhere. As a classroom teacher, I stood at my door and greeted teachers. As a principal, I stood at the front door. As superintendent, I met the buses.”
Ardiana said he believes knowing every student is a vital part of doing his job.
“It’s huge the impact,” he said. “I can turn a frown into a smile. I have my notebook and students can tell me things.”
Ardiana recalled one student this year who started coming to school without his glasses. After a few days, Ardiana asked the student about it and learned the glasses were broken. So, the superintendent set up an exam with a local optometrist and helped the student get new glasses.
“Greeting students every morning is huge as far as building relationships and letting them see I care,” he said.
And Ardiana cares deeply. He knows the students, he knows their families and he knows their strengths and weaknesses. As he wrapped up his day Thursday, he spent time looking over handmade cards fifth-grade art students gave him after he taught their class earlier this year. Reading the cards, Ardiana became visibly emotional about the handwritten notes inside.
Ardiana began his career 33 years ago as a high school art teacher in Glendive, Montana. He taught art for eight years before serving as an elementary principal, high school principal, athletic director, middle school principal and the last 22 years as superintendent.
Ardiana spent his career in Montana until he got the opportunity to come to Bandon six years ago. Ardiana said his view on education was formed largely from what he experienced.
“When I was working on the Crow reservation, a lot of the time they didn’t have phones, so I did a lot of home visits,” he said. “I learned conversational Crow because that’s what my community spoke. I learned from the kids and checked it with elders. It was a great way to integrate. Because I learned Crow, I had a lot more respect in the community.”
Six years ago, Ardiana made the biggest leap of his career when he took the job as superintendent in Bandon. He said the opportunity was exactly what he was looking for at the time.
“I moved to Oregon for the opportunity to be superintendent because of the size of the community and the quality of the community,” he said. “I was not interested in a big community. All of my career has been in small schools.”
Ardiana said he intended to stay in Bandon longer, but personal tragedy in the last year led to his decision to retire. He explained that his sister died in July and his mom died of Parkinson’s disease. With his dad needing more care, Ardiana said it was time to retire and tend to his family.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a lot of stress, Ardiana said it did not play a role in his decision to retire.
“It’s been overwhelming in government paperwork, regulations, protocols that have been rapidly changing,” he said. “It was really hard saying you could be on a bus at three feet but the second you got off, it was six feet. COVID had nothing to do with my decision to make a change. It was clearly because of family.”
As he prepares to step away, Ardiana admits it will be difficult.
“This has been a tremendous experience being involved with a very supportive and educationally focused community,” he said. “We as a community and a school district have done some great things to impact our system, from updating our curriculum to the proactive maintenance of our buildings and passing the recent bond issue.
“It will be sad. Beginnings are scary and endings are said. You can’t put your heart and soul into a community for six years and not feel said when it’s over. I know I’ve made a difference in our kids’ lives.”
The students in Bandon agree.
Eighth-grader Nena Minkler said she has grown to like Ardiana, who has twice served as middle school principal during her term as superintendent.
“I think he’s stood in to be principal twice since I’ve been here,” Minkler said. “He’s a really good way of getting stuff done and not being too strict and making them fun. I really like Mr. Ardiana. I know he really wants to get us in school and he wants us to have the best learning environment, which was really nice because the year was so strange.”
Andrew Robertson, a junior at Bandon High School, said Ardiana was always around, which made a difference.
“I think he did a good job when he was here,” Robertson said. “Every morning, he was out front of the lunch room, and he’s always at the games for basketball.”
Sophomore Daniel Cabrera had similar thoughts.
“Really great guy,” he said. “I was school president in middle school and at the time he was principal, so I got to work a lot with him. He was really helpful. He really made it a fun year for students on the council and in school.”
As Ardiana steps away, he said it might not sink in fully until September, when he won’t go to school for the first time in decades.
“I’m 56. You start kindergarten when you’re 5,” he said. “I’ve been going to school for 51 years. This September will be the first time in 51 years I’m not going to school.”
To honor Ardiana and welcome new Superintendent Shauna Schmerer, the Bandon School District is inviting the community to a meet and greet from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at the Bandon Cafeteria.