State Representative Betty Komp
Fewer than one in five students at French Prairie Middle School could read at their grade level when Betty Komp accepted a job as the school’s principal.
It would have been easy to turn down the job and keep looking for a school with more promising prospects, but Betty felt a kinship with the students.
Betty started behind the curve from the outset of grade school.
“We didn’t have anything to read in the house until I reached the sixth grade,” Betty said. “When I started school, I didn’t understand the concept of letters, much less how they combine to make sounds.”
As the third of what would eventually be 14 children and growing up on a dairy farm, education came second to work. Betty quickly became the primary caregiver for her younger siblings. It imbued in her a sense of fierce independence and self-sufficiency.
She married at 18 and started a family, but later found herself raising four children on her own, using skills she’d learned on the farm like tending her own garden and sewing clothes for the kids.
Betty was 35 and looking for a life change when she began investigating college. She enrolled at Chemeketa Community College, transferred to Western Oregon University and graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree. She took a job teaching at Woodburn High School and began working on a master’s degree, which she received in 1992.
In 1994 Betty was hired as an assistant principal at Woodburn. It was a time of intense gang activity and violence at the high school. She was part of an administrative team that created a zero-tolerance plan for gang activity in the school. By advocating for high standards of discipline, Betty gained the respect of students, staff, and the community by lowering the dropout rate, improving the attendance rate and cracking down on gang activity.
“It comes down to setting a high bar. If we expect more of people, chances are they will live into those expectations,” she said.
Betty drew on all these experiences when confronted with the situation at struggling French Prairie Middle School.
“We had a deficit to overcome, but we had a plan to get us back on track,” Betty said.
Every staff and faculty member was retrained to teach reading at the most basic levels and progress came rapidly. Within four years, significantly more students at the school were reading at their grade level and the school’s performance rankings improved from “low” to “strong.”
Basing her campaign on the strength of her experience, Betty was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in November 2004 and sworn into office on January 10, 2005.
“We’ve come a long way since I was elected, but there’s more work yet to be done,” she said.
In her free time, Betty loves to garden at her home in Woodburn, read and really enjoys spending time with her four daughters and eight grandchildren.