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PPS Names Bob McKean Interim Superintendent


Bob McKean speaks at a community meeting at Portland Public Schools district office, before being named the interim superintendent.

Bob McKean speaks at a community meeting at Portland Public Schools district office, before being named the interim superintendent.

Rob Manning/OPB

The Portland school board agreed Tuesday night to make Bob McKean the district’s interim superintendent.

McKean retired as superintendent from East Portland’s Centennial School District six years ago. He has taught in the graduate education program at Lewis and Clark College and has been on education boards, including Portland-area school development non-profit All Hands Raised and the alternative school program Open Meadow.

McKean acknowledged to parents and teachers, that he hasn’t run a district the size of Portland Public Schools.  

“I will need everyone’s help,” McKean said. “We will all have to work together as a tighter team, to serve the students well. And I recognize that this is an interim position, and that has its limits. But that said, this is not from my perspective the kind of position where one just maintains status quo.”  

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McKean said that he wants to look at the district’s internal structure — particularly the bureaucracy of Portland Public Schools’ central office. He said student safety will be his top priority. But McKean said he also wants to engage people beyond the schoolhouse doors.

“It’s not just about the people in Portland Public Schools,” McKean said. “This is a community-wide effort. It needs to be. It’s about the parents. It’s about the businesses. It’s about everybody in this community. These are our kids. We have a moral responsibility for them, and we need to take that seriously.”

McKean emerged as one of two finalists, after the field was winnowed from 11 applicants to five candidates. The other finalist, Paula Radich, withdrew after the interview process for personal reasons. She served recently as the interim head in the Beaverton and Salem-Keizer districts. Had Radich been selected as Portland’s interim, she would have been interim superintendent in all three of Oregon’s largest school districts, over a three-year period. 

Paula Radich served as interim superintendent in Beaverton and Salem-Keizer.

Paula Radich served as interim superintendent in Beaverton and Salem-Keizer.

Courtesy of the Beaverton School District

Portland Public Schools employed one of the most public ways of interviewing and vetting candidates available to them in their process to hire an interim superintendent. They interviewed all five candidates in executive sessions that reporters were allowed to attend, but restricted in what they were allowed to report. The district also wanted a “meet-and-greet” — a step seldom taken for interim candidates.

Often, school boards will simply appoint an interim superintendent rather than go through a school board interview process. But PPS board members said it was important for “transparency” reasons to interview multiple candidates. However, board members acknowledged that some strong candidates for the interim position bowed out when they learned how the process was going to go.

It wasn’t a public enough process for some in Portland’s school community. Suzanne Cohen, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers, was disappointed that her union members were unable to meet the candidates except for Bob McKean, whom they met just hours before he was selected.

“We weren’t very involved in the process of selecting the interim, which I think is a mistake,” Cohen said. “I definitely hope that we’re involved in the process for the search of the future superintendent. I think all of the employee groups should take a great part in that.”

The Portland school board has already begun discussions on how to recruit and hire a permanent superintendent.

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