An Oregon school leader who was recently fired says the people responsible for her ouster never spoke to her, and the district’s work on equity — which she championed — is languishing in her absence.
Board members at the Greater Albany Public Schools District have not explained why they fired Superintendent Melissa Goff shortly after new members took over. For Goff, the split wasn’t a shock, but the timing was.
“I certainly thought when this new board came into their positions that we would have some very difficult conversations and that yes, that eventually, I may be needing to find different employment,” Goff told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” Wednesday. “I certainly would not have expected that to happen within the first two weeks though of their tenure.”
Goff said during that two-week period, none of the new school board members had any “conversations” with her.
The conflict in the Albany school district is not the only example of recent friction between career school administrators and elected school board members. The Newberg School Board has announced plans to repeal state policies aimed at equity, particularly Every Student Belongs; a policy which among other aspects, bans hate symbols such as nooses and swastikas. Newberg’s plans to abandon such policies have drawn opposition from the state legislature’s BIPOC caucus and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith-Warner, D-Portland.
So far, Goff is the only superintendent to be fired by a new school board. She was terminated without cause, a point Goff said confirmed she hadn’t done anything wrong.
Goff says she was removed for having different values, such as ensuring equity was integrated into teaching students.
“They need to be able to think critically and be exposed to multiple perspectives and grow from learning from other ways of thinking,” Goff said. “But instead what we are seeing both in the actions of this board and the actions of other boards is that people who’ve been marginalized in the past are being pushed again to the edges.”
In statements emailed to OPB, however, board chair Eric Aguinaga argues Goff was fired because she had become a polarizing figure in the Albany community.
“The new board members did not create the problems of divisiveness. These predated the election. We ran to try to solve the problems,” Aguinaga wrote.
Aguinaga also takes exception to Goff’s allegation that Albany was backing off of commitments to help historically marginalized students.
“We disagree that our former superintendent’s contract was terminated because of her position on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Aguinaga said. “It was not.”
The chair noted that Goff’s interim replacement, longtime school leader Rob Saxton, is deeply committed to equity work.
However, Goff argues that the process to bring in new administrators — including Saxton — is further evidence that the district is less committed to helping students of color and other student groups the district hasn’t served well in the past. Goff points to four recently filled positions, all of which went to white men on a fast timeline.
“All of those positions not having been posted so that publicly people around the state or the nation could apply for them create a lack of access for people of color, create a lack of access for bilingual people,” Goff argued. “And not surprisingly, all of those positions then were filled by white men.”
The four positions Goff is referencing are interim superintendent, chief of staff, interim executive director of operations, and an assistant principal position. Chief of staff Rich Sipe confirmed that all four positions were filled quickly by four people who identify as white males through appointments after the board hired Saxton following a brief search.
“Rob [Saxton] appointed me Chief of Staff following his hiring,” Sipe wrote. “Our interim executive director of operations was appointed by me following the sudden resignation of his predecessor. The assistant principal was already an assistant principal in the district, he was just moved to another building.”