Ernie Brown rises through the ranks from teacher to district leader

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brown started his career as a physical education teacher at Fowler Jr. High in 1988. Since then, he has worked through the ranks, serving as former superintendent Rob Saxtons second-in-commandFive years ago, Ernie Brown wouldn’t have wanted the job.

Today, he can’t think of any place he’d rather be.

Brown, who was officially hired Monday as the new superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District Monday as the new superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District, is a familiar face, having served as a teacher, associate principal, principal and administrator in the district for the past 25 years.

“To say that it’s an honor to be selected to be the next superintend ent of Tigard-Tualatin schools is a huge understatement, but they are the only words I have,” Brown told the School Board on Monday.

Brown replaces Rob Saxton who left the district in July to lead the state's Department of Education..

Brown enters his newest district role with zero superintendent experience and with a host of challenges on the horizon for Tigard-Tualatin.

Brown said becoming the superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin was his “dream job” and credits Saxton with sparking his interest in moving to the superintendent’s office.

“If there was ever an opportunity that I could see myself in, this is it,” he said. “I had the opportunity to learn from him and see what he was doing. It started to become something that I thought more and more about.”

While the two school leaders are similar in many ways, Saxton and Brown have very different administrative styles.

Where Saxton was seen as a go-getting, innovative leader, Brown has been a “just the facts, ma’am”-style administrator who has gotten results and built trust within the district.

As the head of human resources, he helped smooth over relations with the district’s unions representing certified and classified staff.

On Monday, Brown was congratulated by both the School Board and the president of the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association, the local teachers’ union that also represents other certified staff members.

District leaders describe Brown as methodical, analytical and even-keeled. He has earned a reputation as someone who is thoughtful before offering input and who arrives to work between 5 and 6:30 a.m., putting in 11-hour workdays before spending hours in School Board meetings, negotiations with employee groups or after-hours meetings.

Why go anywhere else?

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ernie Brown, the new superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin schools, doesnt have any experience in the job, but he brings with him 25 years as a teacher, principal and administrator in Tigard-Tualatin schools. Brown has spent his entire career in Tigard-Tualatin, starting as a physical education teacher at Fowler Junior High in 1988.

“I saw my (career) initially as teaching and coaching, and moving forward in that way,” Brown recalled. “It was a combination of working with students and the opportunity to have an impact and make a difference. It was the wellness and fitness and coaching part.”

From there, he has worked as associate principal at Tigard High School and Hazelbrook Middle School, principal at Hazelbrook and the district’s director of human resources and operations.

“I was never interested in going somewhere else,” he said. “When people ask me why I’ve stayed for so long, I look at them and ask, ‘Why would I ever think of going anywhere else?’

“There is something unique about Tigard-Tualatin — a laser-focus on doing what is right for our students.”

After more than two dozen years in an array of roles, what Brown lacks in superintendent experience, he makes up for in institutional knowledge, district officials said.

“I look at that as a strength,” Brown said. “To be able to look at the organization from a lot of different perspectives, I think that will do nothing but help me in the future.”

Prioritize resources

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Browns first day on the job in July will be frought with change: New state and federal standards take effect this year, along with likely millions in budget cuts.That future, however, is one filled with uncertainty over the next few years.

Current plans are to cut anywhere from 5 to 9 percent of next year’s biennial district budget before Brown takes over the helm in July. Those budget reductions will likely mean layoffs and program cuts over the next two years.

The district will also have to implement a number of new changes this summer, including new teacher and administrator evaluations as part of the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, as well as new federal Common Core standards in English and math.

Just how the district will cope with these changes has yet to be seen, but Brown said the uncertain education budget means Tigard-Tualatin will have to prioritize its resources and direct funding to places where the district can get the best student outcomes.

“The things that have put us where we are as a district, such as getting a strong foundation for all our kids, those can’t be eroded in any way,” Brown said.

At his current assignment in human resources and operations, Brown has had his head in the weeds, dealing with the day-to-day work of keeping the district’s infrastructure going. He hasn’t had many opportunities for “big picture” ideas.

Instead, Brown said, he wants to take a fresh look at the way the district does its business before coming up with any new initiatives.

“I’m not necessarily looking to wipe the slate clean (with how the district works), but I wanted to start from the perspective of ‘Hey, I’m new here, what are the things that are important to you?’” Brown said.

Brown has already started meeting with district staff and plans on holding community meetings.

He will spend the next several months learning the ins and outs of his new role before he takes over at the end of the school year.

His experience in Tigard-Tualatin has paid off, he said, as he comes in with a strong working relationship with his inner cabinet.

Brown’s biggest challenge will be getting back out into classrooms and reconnecting with students and schools, he noted.

“That’s agenda item number 1, 2 and 3,” Brown said. “I need to get out to schools and engage with the community and other groups and learn as much as I can.”

Maintaining a connection to students is a priority for Brown. “I will not allow some of the elements of the job that could have me sitting at a desk be the priority,” he said. “We need to have the schools, teachers and kids be the priority. If I can do that, there will be a lot of rewards and positives.”

Brown takes over as superintendent on July 1.

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