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New Beaverton School District superintendent Don Grotting shares vision

Former David Douglas superintendent brings experience, commitment to equity

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - New BSD superintendent Don Grotting took over leadership of the district two months ago.Don Grotting may be the new kid on the block in the Beaverton School District, but he brings two decades of experience as a superintendent, a reputation for expanding equity and perspective offered by an unusual life trajectory.

Grotting was hired as district’s new superintendent in June, replacing Jeff Rose, who took a similar position in Atlanta.

Grotting was born and raised in Coquille, a small town in southwest Oregon. He describes himself as a “mediocre student” — his high school counselor told him that he wasn’t college material — brought up in a family where education wasn’t on the forefront.

“I grew up in extreme poverty,” Grotting said. His family didn’t have indoor plumbing until he was a teen. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the military and served for three years before returning home. He then worked for a Georgia-Pacific sawmill, starting with menial labor and eventually moving up to the maintenance division.

“I probably would have still been working there if the mill didn’t shut down,” Grotting said.

After being laid off, Grotting embarked on a career change that led him to become superintendent of Oregon’s third-largest school district.

He enrolled in college for the first time in his mid-30s, then headed to Powers (it’s located southwest of Coos Bay), where he began working as an elementary school teacher. At the end of his second year, he was asked to apply to become superintendent of the Powers School District, which served about 250 students.

It’s that life experience which, in part, compelled Grotting to fight for equity and inclusivity later as superintendent of Nyssa School District in eastern Oregon, where he served 10 years, then David Douglas School District in Portland, where he served another six years.

“It helps me a lot ... that I’ve not always been in education,” Grotting said.

In 2005, Nyssa was presented with the Closing the Achievement Gap Award by the Oregon Department of Education. In 2014, during his tenure at David Douglas, Grotting was named the Oregon Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.

Grotting said he is committed to addressing the achievement gap in the Beaverton School District, where students who come from low-income backgrounds or historically disadvantaged communities fare worse in graduation rates and standardized test results. TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - New BSD superintendent Don Grotting is settling into his new post.

It takes a multitude of strategies to tackle inequity.

“Number one is really getting to know your students,” Grotting said.

At David Douglas, Grotting spent much of his free time cheering on kids at school sporting events and attending their music and theater performances.

As superintendent of a district with a large, diverse student population, Grotting said he focused on making sure all students were seen and heard. He tried to give teachers and administrators the support they needed to differentiate instruction and be aware of cultural competency issues.

Part of equity is expanding access to technology, Grotting said. Because of that, he is especially excited about the district’s “Future Ready” initiative, which will provide one-to-one devices to all students and build the infrastructure needed to support 21st-century learning.

“It’s a way of leveling the playing field,” Grotting said. “The challenge is ... the device is a tool. The goal is to figure out what instructional support goes behind the device. How is it going to increase (student) learning?”

Grotting will also prioritize ways to increase access to early education, which has often been a challenge due to diminishing school budgets in Oregon.

“That way, instead of trying to close the achievement gap, you’re actually stopping it from occurring in the first place,” Grotting said.

But, Grotting cautioned, none of this is possible without the inclusion of teachers at the table.

“Those are the people who are going to be making it happen on the ground,” he said. “I think the development of teacher leadership is untapped statewide.”

Listening to and learning from a cross-section of voices is how Grotting does his job. In just two months in Beaverton, he’s inherited the final stages of the district’s high school boundaries adjustment process, which has often been contentious.

Grotting has already heard from parents with concerns about how boundary changes will affect their families. He’s working to get the word out to all communities, especially those that are marginalized and having difficulties navigating the system.

“As long as people truly feel they’ve been listened to and educated ... they might not agree with your decision, but at least they’ve had some valuable input (and) the majority of people will understand,” Grotting said.

“I’ll listen to anyone with concerns and look at the data,” Grotting said. “Ultimately, we have to do what’s right for the community as a whole ... Sometimes, it means making tough and equitable decisions that might not be the most popular decisions.”

He’s learned to be cognizant of all perspectives — including those of students.

In districts he’s worked for in the past, student input has shaped everything from cafeteria menus to class offerings.

Grotting wants to focus on initiatives that increase career and technical education opportunities for students who, like him, might chart a different course during their post-high school journeys.

“Each of these students has the infinite capacity to learn,” Grotting added. “So how do we best bring that out?”