Newberg school superintendent Joe Morelock has only a few days left at his job, and said he plans to spend it in the district’s schools.
“I plan on getting to all 10 of our schools to say hello, maybe say goodbye, give some closure for some people and still get to see the magic,” Morelock said. “That’s really where the joy in this job is, is to see all of the stuff that’s happening in our schools and to be a part of that.”
Morelock, speaking on OPB’s Think Out Loud in his first interview since the school board fired him Tuesday, said the district’s focus on students and staff has been lost in the attention on a new school board policy banning “political, quasi-political, or controversial” symbols.
He said he was enforcing the policy as written, but that others probably felt “frustrated” that work to enforce the policy wasn’t moving quickly enough.
Morelock said he does not want to speculate on why he was fired, but said he, and the board’s conservative majority, had different “philosophies” about the district’s future.
Response to the Newberg school board’s 4-3 vote to terminate Morelock’s employment has been broadly supportive of Morelock, with a rally outside the district office Thursday. Morelock spoke at the rally, thanking students and staff.
Thursday evening, Morelock previously shared a statement on Twitter, citing some of the district’s accomplishments in the three years he has led the district.
“Most notably, we successfully passed a $141-million bond that will build new schools, future-proof existing ones, and improve the school experience for every Newberg and Dundee student,” Morelock shared.
“Leading Newberg Public Schools has been one of the great professional honors of my 29-career in public education.”
Morelock’s contract was not up until 2024. The board will have to pay for at least 12 months of his pay, as well the salary for an interim superintendent.
The school board is also facing multiple lawsuits, including one from the Newberg Education Association, the union representing teachers in the district.
On Think Out Loud, Morelock also discussed the first complaint under the district’s new policy on banning “political” symbols. He described the sign in question as having a rainbow background, with a heart on top of it, with the words “Be Known”.
As the board discussed the sign at Tuesday’s meeting, board members struggled to determine if the sign was political. Morelock said that it shows the different experiences people have with symbols, and the challenge in following the policy.
“The challenge was not necessarily in the policy language, except for the fact that when you try to enforce it, you find yourself running into first amendment rights and other kinds of discriminatory practices,” he said.
Oregon House Democrats and the state’s BIPOC caucus have spoken out against the board’s decision to fire Morelock, pledging to “take action” in the next legislative session. When asked whether there’s a need for “political intervention” to prevent a firing like Morelock’s, the superintendent spoke about how a constantly changing school board can impact stability in a school district.
“From a legislative perspective, I think maybe I’d like to see that we don’t have such large numbers of boards changing hands,” He said. “What that does is it creates instability for the system, it creates instability for your staff. Whether or not your staff likes you...at least they know who their leader is.”
Morelock also spoke about the polarization in Newberg and across the country, as school board meetings have become political battlegrounds where parents and community members speak out against everything from COVID-19 health and safety mandates to what gets taught in schools. He said
“What gets lost in the polarization, is that people just want it to be exactly how they want it for their child,” Morelock said. “When you have to explain that we need to make it welcoming, and we need to make it inspiring, and we need to make it educational for every child...it’s something that not everybody wants to believe.”
He said no matter what side someone is on politically, “they all want what they believe is best for their child.”