This summer, two new leaders joined Ferndale School District: Director of Behavior and Mental Health Chris Cochran, and Director of Human Resources Kara Silsbee. Below are some details about our new directors, their goals, and their backgrounds.
Cochran believes students’ mental health is a key part of their academic success.
“Sometimes mental health is one of those things that impacts how our kids can fully engage in school,” he said. “If you’re not getting your needs met, it can be really hard to do your best in algebra.”
Cochran brings more than two decades of experience in both behavioral/mental health and education to Ferndale School District. That experience includes 14 years as a school counselor in Bellingham and Hillsboro, Oregon, leading mobile response teams to assist staff and students after tragedies; coordinating grant funding for counseling and behavioral health services; and more. He has also operated a mental health counseling practice.
Cochran said he became interested in mental health because he wanted to help students with their needs by offering concrete solutions.
“I got passionate about mental health because kids’ stories are so important, and I want to honor that with having the tools to listen,” he said. “I wanted to know, ‘How do I help them move forward in life?”
At Ferndale, Cochran will support our school counselors and psychologists. He will provide assistance to schools with student conduct, behavior, and in providing instruction and interventions where needed.
“I’m excited to join such a great team of people in Ferndale,” Cochran said. “I’m looking forward to supporting our staff and the wonderful work they’re doing with students.”
Cochran also plans to seek out grant funding for additional counseling and mental health support in our schools.
He said he is very excited to work in a tight-knit city like Ferndale.
“Ferndale has such a strong community network, with parents, grandparents, families, teachers and supportive adults invested in helping our kids as they grow up,” Cochran said. “I’m really excited about the things that are already happening here.”
Cochran lives in Blaine with his wife and children – two currently attending Blaine High School, two in college, and two in young adulthood, along with two grandchildren. They also have a multitude of pets: three dogs (Nutmeg, Cocoa, and Comet), two cats (Cookie and Twix) and a handful of chickens. In his spare time he enjoys playing guitar, exploring the outdoors, spending time with his family and watching baseball.
Silsbee said it’s important for a school district to have a successful human resources department, taking care of all staff, from new hires to those close to retirement.
“Having a well-run HR department ensures our staff can focus on the kids,” said Silsbee. “They’re not worried about their paycheck being on time, or if there’s someone to take care of them if they need a leave of absence.”
Silsbee has worked in human resources for 18 years: 11 years at two local seafood companies and seven years at Bellingham Public Schools. At those three locations, she oversaw recruiting and hiring new employees, handling contracts, and more.
Silsbee started her HR career at Icicle Seafoods in Seattle as a temp, manually calculating timecards. Her interest in the field grew under the guidance of her mentor, Leauri Moore.
“She saw that I worked hard, took me under her wing, and taught me everything I know,” Silsbee said of Moore.
Silsbee is a Ferndale High School graduate (class of 2003) and said she was excited to serve the district she once attended.
“I definitely have Ferndale pride,” she said. “This is my community, these are my people, and I’d love to contribute to making sure where I went to school stays great.”
Some of Silsbee’s goals for Ferndale’s HR department include streamlining hiring processes and transitioning to paperless systems. The latter change would make signing documents, hiring new staff, and more much faster and easier, she said.
“With onboarding new staff, people don’t have to come into the district office and do the paperwork,” Silsbee said. “They can do that work on their own time, and it gets to us quickly.”
Silsbee lives in Ferndale with her partner and son, who will be starting sixth grade at Vista Middle School this fall. In her spare time, Silsbee loves going beachcombing with her family. She’s also a passionate volunteer, serving on the board of Ferndale Community Services.
“Giving back to our community is really important,” Silsbee said.
Silsbee said she has an open-door policy for anyone – staff or community member – who has questions or concerns.
“I just want to learn more about how the community feels and what we can do to keep hiring great people to work here,” she said.