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The School Board voted unanimously to accept the state association's proposal.

FILE - The Forest Grove School Board agreed to begin the process of finding a replacement for former Superintendent Yvonne Curtis (left) right away at a meeting Monday, Jan. 8.As the Forest Grove School District seeks a successor to Yvonne Curtis, who resigned last month as superintendent, members of the School Board agreed Monday, Jan. 8, that they want to use a statewide association as their consultant in the search.

Led by Vice Chairman Brad Bafaro, board members unanimously approved using the Oregon School Boards Association to conduct the search for a new superintendent. The decision came after a work session at which all five board members agreed to place it on the agenda as an action item, although it was not on the agenda published before the meeting.

Bafaro said he believes time is of the essence. John O'Neill, Forest Grove's assistant superintendent, is effectively pulling double duty, as he was designated interim superintendent after Curtis' resignation.

"I don't think it's fair to John," Bafaro said of delaying the search process. "I think the clearer we can be about what the process is going to be, the earlier that we can make that decision, the better for all of the players involved."

Bafaro explained what he likes about OSBA, which he said proposed to the district that it lead the search effort, over the alternatives.

"The other four … were more national kind of searches," Bafaro said. By contrast, OSBA is "more grounded in Oregon," although it's capable of carrying out a national search process, he added.

According to the OSBA website, when tapped by a school district to provide executive search services, the association advertises the vacancy, communicates with applicants, maintains files on job candidates, and can be contracted to screen the applicants and create a shortlist for the school board. The board can then conduct interviews, with OSBA's assistance, and make a hiring decision.

While all five board members agreed to begin the search process right away, several noted that the board shouldn't feel pressured to hire a superintendent before the school year ends if it does not find a suitable candidate.

"If we don't find the right fit or somebody that we don't think is going to be great for our district, we don't have to hire anybody," said Valyrie Ingram. "We could go for another year, and then we'd hopefully be able to find somebody better."

Mark Everett worried about a truncated hiring process.

"I have to be honest, it feels like it could be rushed to me. But maybe it won't be," Everett said. "Typically, districts do the superintendent change a year out — 10 months out or even 12 months out."

Chairwoman Kate Grandusky said she has concerns about the quality of the candidates she thinks the school district might see for its top job.

Curtis resigned last month a week before an evaluation of her performance, which was commissioned by the school district, was made public. Unlike in previous years, district employees and community members were sampled as part of the evaluation. The tone and conclusions the evaluation drew were considerably more negative toward Curtis' performance than previous evaluations had been. Several remarks quoted in the final report alluded to an uncomfortable work environment at the school district under Curtis, with one person describing it as a "climate of fear."

"A potential candidate is going to look at what's happened and see the results of that survey and what was in the newspaper, and I'm not sure that we're going to get the best candidate," Grandusky said. "I'm just tossing this out as an idea — maybe we will, maybe we won't — but I know personally, if I was coming in, I would think, 'Hmm, maybe I'm not going to take this district, you know, because of the culture that was here.'"

In her final weeks at the Forest Grove School District, Curtis clashed at times with the School Board, of which Grandusky became chairwoman after an election in May swept out incumbents and replaced them with new members less favorable toward the superintendent. When the board voted to hire four additional teachers in October, Curtis said publicly she could not support the decision. She expressed concern about the effects on the district's finances.

Days after Curtis resigned as superintendent, Portland Public Schools announced her hiring as a deputy superintendent.

Grandusky wondered whether the school district needs time to recuperate after Curtis' sudden departure.

"It's been challenging for our staff and this district, so I'm wondering if we need some time to heal or part of the healing will be finding someone," she said.

Neither Curtis nor board members have commented on the reason for the former superintendent's resignation, which a community member, Chas Hundley, described as "incredibly disappointing" in public comments he offered at Monday's board meeting.

Grandusky responded to Hundley's remarks by pledging the board "will work on transparency."

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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