School Board will hire new district leader Monday night

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Former Hazelbrook Middle School Principal Ernie Brown will become the Tigard-Tualatin School District's next superintendent, following a national search. Tigard-Tualatin School Board members searched nationwide to find their next superintendent, but in the end they didn’t have to look any farther than their own building.

The Tigard-Tualatin School District announced Wednesday that Ernie Brown, who serves as director of operations and human resources, will step in and become the next leader of Tigard-Tualatin schools.

A fixture of the district for more than 20 years, Brown has worked in several positions across the district, but is perhaps best known for his work as principal at Hazelbrook Middle School and as the district’s current director of human resources and operations.

Brown has spent his entire career working in Tigard-Tualatin schools, and is a respected member of the superintendent’s cabinet.

“Everybody in this district, and I mean everybody, has this enormous trust of Ernie Brown,” said longtime School Board member Barry Albertson. “You can’t buy that kind of trust, it comes from being earned and nurtured over years and years.”

Brown, 48, started as a physical education teacher in the 1980s before rising through the ranks to become the district’s second-in-command, often serving in the position when the superintendent was unavailable.

Brown was one of four finalists from across the country interviewed on Feb. 18, but only Brown moved on to a final round of interviews with the School Board and cabinet-level staff on March 5.

Brown enters the new job with plenty of knowledge about Tigard-Tualatin but little superintendent experience. After graduating from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in teaching, physical education and health in 1988 he was hired as a P.E. teacher at Fowler Middle School, then known as Fowler Jr. High School.

In 1992, Brown moved to Tigard High School, where he worked as a health teacher. He was named associate principal in 1997. In 1999 he moved to Hazelbrook Middle School as the associate principal before becoming principal in 2001.

He served as principal for seven years before moving to the district’s head office to take over as human resource director and operations director.

“Ernie has done a great job at every position he has held and has advanced pretty rapidly,” said district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon.

‘He’s ready for it’

School board members stressed that Brown was not an “heir apparent.”

“That was something that we took very seriously,” said board chairwoman Maureen Wolf. “The process that we have gone through was genuine and authentic and the finalists all had tremendous credentials. When you think about who was best suited we came to Ernie.”

In fact, his long experience at the district initially had some school board members worried.

“We were worried he would be jaded,” said School Board member Jill Zurschmeiede. “That he might have a mindset to do something this way or that way because that was the way things have always been. But he’s ready for it. He wants to do it and he has a plan.”

Brown replaces former Superintendent Rob Saxton, who left the district last year to lead the state’s Department of Education, overseeing all Oregon public schools from pre-kindergarten through college.

Saxton left big shoes to fill, district leaders said. He was widely credited with being a visionary leader who got results in the classroom, could connect with both faculty and the public and helped bring the district into the 21st century.

Under Saxton’s leadership, the district made advances to close the achievement gap, raised graduation rates, started an online school and put more advanced technology in students’ hands. It adopted new curriculum in reading, math and science and set up programs to stop dropouts by identifying struggling students early on.

Albertson said that Brown is ready for the challenge.

“He has a work ethic, honesty, sincerity and care for this district and kids that is second to none,” Albertson said.

The district has done national searches for its superintendents before, but has never chosen anyone from outside Oregon or Idaho. Brown is the latest in a string of close-to-home hires.

Jer Pratton — a former Tigard-Tualatin teacher and retired Hermiston School District superintendent — served as interim before Saxton was hired in 2005.

Saxton was then-superintendent of the Sherwood School District. His interim replacement, Roger Rada, was a former superintendent at Oregon City.

Rough year ahead

Brown will have to keep the district moving forward, but with likely millions of dollars less in the budget.

Rada has said he will likely have to cut millions from the district’s 2013-15 biennial budget, after the Legislature finalizes its plans for K-12 educational funding later this year and reserve funds — the district’s lifeboat for the past several years — run out in June.

Anywhere from $4 million to $9 million worth of cuts and layoffs are expected, Stark Haydon said.

“He has experienced all of the problems and challenges and successes of our district,” said Zurschmeide. “He has seen them all over the last 20 years. He knows what we value and not having to explain that to somebody is another huge asset.”

Brown becomes the fifth superintendent in the district’s 44-year history. He will remain in his current position until the end of the year, and will take over in July.

A special school board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 11, where board members will officially hire Brown as their superintendent.

When former Superintendent Rob Saxton left last July, he was collecting $148,830 a year.

Brown’s current salary with the district is $118,292.

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