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Saxton replaces Susan Castillo, who oversaw the state's public school system for nine years.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard-Tualatin School District Superintendent Saxton speaking at a special ceremony for Art Rutkin in 2011. on Thursday Saxton was appointed to run the state's Department of Education.Tigard-Tualatin School District Superintendent Rob Saxton will replace Susan Castillo at the helm of Oregon’s education system after being named by Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday as the new leader of the state’s Department of Education.

It’s a bittersweet moment for the former principal and math teacher, who begins his new job July 31 in Salem.

“It’s really hard to say goodbye,” Saxton said, sitting in his office. Framed portraits of U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt bookend his desk. “I know that I will miss it a lot.”

Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Rob Saxton has been named the head of the state's Department of Education by Governor John Kitzhaber. An Oregon native, Saxton joind the district’s leadership team in 2005, after serving five years as superintendent of the Sherwood School District.

In his new state position, Saxton will report directly to the governor and the recently named chief education officer, Rudy Crew.

As deputy superintendent, Saxton will oversee the Oregon Department of Education and the state’s public schools from kindergarten through college.

Saxton is the first deputy superintendent of education in the state, after the Legislature approved a plan in 2011 to eliminate Castillo’s publicly elected position in favor of an appointed position by the governor.

Saxton will inherit the vast majority of Castillo’s responsibilities in Salem and will have to pick up where she left off, including implementing new higher reading and math standards known as the Common Core, lowering the state’s high dropout rate and gaining a waiver for some requirements of the nation’s No Child Left Behind law.

Castillo stepped down last month to take a job with Project Lead the Way, which provides math, science and engineering curriculum to middle and high schools.

“Rob will be, principally, the guy leading the way on K-12 issues in Oregon,” said Ben Cannon, the governor’s education advisor and a former state representative from Portland.

In a statement, Kitzhaber said Saxton has proven “time-and-time-again that he can deliver real results. His on-the-ground experience and excellent track record in the Tigard-Tualatin School District will help us achieve better outcomes for all of Oregon’s students.”

“Rob stood out above the rest,” Cannon said. “For us, it was his deep commitment to improving results for all kids, his proven track record with closing the achievement gap while boosting results overall, and his ability to communicate and connect with educators, the public, parents and community groups.”

Cannon said Saxton also sprang to mind because of his work at the state level.

Saxton served as an advisor to Castillo and the state Board of Education for two-and-a-half years, lobbied the Legislature for more money for public schools and free kindergarten for all students.

One of the highest priorities for Saxton when he heads to Salem will be implementing the governor’s 40-40-20 Plan, which calls for every student in Oregon to graduate from high school and go on to higher education by the year 2025. Under the plan, all students would graduate with a high school degree, with 40 percent of students going on to earn a two-year degree and another 40 percent earning a degree from a four-year college or university.

“That is an audacious goal,” Saxton said. “That can’t just be schools’ (responsibility). It’s a partnershiop with businesses and parents and all parts of education in order to get that done.”

Saxton said it was likely impossible the state would achieve a perfect graduation rate, but said it was an important goal to aspire to.

“That is a beast,” he said. ‘But how can you say that we are going to fail some kids? And by that I don’t mean that kids will fail, I mean that we will fail kids. If we say that 99 percent of kids will graduate, that’s not OK for a mom and a dad who have a kid in that 1 percent. You have to set an aspirational goal and go after it.”

Saxton will serve on an interim basis in Salem for now. He won’t officially take over the job until he is approved by the state Senate.

The Legislature returns to Salem for interim legislative days Sept. 12.

For more on Saxton leaving click here

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