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Schools begin search for superintendent

Public can discuss candidate qualities at Monday meeting.


by: JON HOUSE - Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Rob Saxton was named last week as the new head of the state's public schools system. Saxton, who previously was superintendent of the Sherwood School District, leaves for the new post next week leaving little time for the district to find an interim replacement.

With the announcement last week that Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Rob Saxton would be leaving to take a job running the state’s public schools system, school officials are scrambling to find Saxton’s replacement in time for the 2012-13 school year.

School Board members approved a plan on Monday to hire an interim superintendent as quickly as possible.

Saxton, who will become the state’s first deputy superintendent of public instruction, apologized to the board twice for the short timeframe the district will have to find a replacement before students return to class in the fall.

School Board Chairwoman Maureen Wolf said an interim superintendent would likely be in place by mid-August.

The district is holding a special meeting on Monday night to hear from the public about what qualities and qualifications the community would like to see in the interim superintendent.

Interviews will likely be held in a closed-door meeting on July 31 — Saxton’s first day at his new job — with a decision made in the next few weeks.

Once an interim superintendent is appointed, the School Board will begin a much longer and more exhaustive search to find a new district leader.

Susan Stark Haydon, the district’s spokeswoman, said the hunt for Saxton’s replacement would likely begin in the fall and could take three to four months.

Saxton told the board that with the district’s reputation as a leader in the region and the state, it should not have much trouble finding interested applicants.

“There are already some people interested in the position,” Stark Haydon said.

by: JON HOUSE - Rob Saxton is leaving the Tigard-Tualatin School District to become the state’s first deputy superintendent of public instruction. 
The position is similar to the position held by Susan Castillo until earlier this year.

Saxton comes from a long line of teachers and educators. His father, mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and son are all teachers. Saxton said his experience in the classroom and as superintendent will be influential in Salem.

“I think it gives me a leg up on credibility,” said Saxton. “I have a different relationship with educational leaders in the state than other people who have been in that position over the years.”

Saxton has been receiving praise from longtime staff members and members of the School Board who said the district’s loss would be the state’s gain.

“I am still stunned a little bit, but really excited for the state,” said Board Chairwoman Maureen Wolf at Monday’s School Board meeting. “There is a sense of hope that some changes or movement in the right direction can happen in Salem.”

Longtime board member Barry Albertson, who was on the board when Saxton was hired, said he knew that Saxton would be a powerful force in the district when he first interviewed him for the superintendent’s position eight years ago.

“It is not a surprise to me that he’s going on to bigger and better things at a position where he will have an enormous and huge impact, not only on the state but in the lives of kids, which is what this job is all about,” Albertson said.

Stark Haydon, who has worked under six superintendents during her tenure with the district, said Saxton’s new position in Salem would bring a fresh perspective to the Department of Education.

“One of the things that we are excited about is having someone who knows what it’s like to work in the school system and can influence policy decisions and what happens,” she said. “(Rob is) someone who understands what needs to be done and the difficulties of implementing things when you don’t have the resources.”

Stark Haydon said the district was able to significantly grow during Saxton’s time at the helm.

“I think what’s very cool about this, is that this is really a vote of confidence for the things happening in Tigard-Tualatin schools. We have been successful in raising our graduation rates and closing the achievement gap,” she said.

Saxton said that while the success of the school district might have played a role in his appointment by Gov. John Kitzhaber, he doesn’t deserve the credit.

“The bottom line is that it is really the teachers in classroom who make the difference on student achievement,” Saxton said. “It’s the secretaries and bus drivers and a whole bunch of other things. The superintendent sometimes just ends up with a statement that they made a difference in achievement, and it sounds kind of pompous.

“Of course, now there’s an article in the paper today that says those things about me, but it’s the people in this district that made that happen.”

During the past seven years, the district has adopted new curriculum in reading, math and science; brought new technology into the classrooms and worked to identify struggling students early to keep them from dropping out.

The district has one of the best graduation rates in the Portland area, and the district has won awards for closing the achievement gap every year.

But he district has also faced its share of challenges.

In June, the district approved $2 million in reductions from its budget. It eliminated 61 staff positions the previous year, most of which were handled through regular retirements and other departures.

Whomever the district does pick to fill the role faces serious challenges in his or her first year.

The district is bracing itself for even more cuts in the next budget cycle. Saxton has said for months that the cuts will be significant.

So far the district has been able to stave off major cuts through its reserves.

“We’re five years into recession,” Saxton said. “That money will run out at the end of next year.”

Saxton said the district would need to see its funding grow by about 19 percent by next fall in order to keep from making difficult cuts in the 2013-14 budget. State economists project only a 13 to 15 percent increase.

“It’s going to be really hard,” Saxton said. “But the economy continues to recover a little bit, and that’s hopeful.”

Saxton said while he won’t have control over how much money the Legislature gives to school districts, he will push to get more funding in educators’ hands.

“One way that I can help Tigard-Tualatin face the issues they’ll face next year is to get more money into the educational system,” he said. “That’s one of the things that I will feel like I need to be here for.

“I feel like I need to be here for that, to do that work and have it turn out as well as it possibly can. People will be left with that burden, and it will be hard.”



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