As the Newberg school board starts a search for a new superintendent, there’s a lot it’s up against. The school board chair and vice chair are facing recall efforts. Multiple lawsuits have been filed both by the school board and against the school board. And the school district has been in the news nationally for months because of a ban on “political” symbols approved by the board’s conservative majority.
Now, board chair Dave Brown has indicated that he wants the school district to have a new permanent superintendent in as little as six weeks.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the school board heard from Brown about a potential “stop gap” superintendent who would fill in right away and help with day-to-day duties for 60 days. That person is Willamette Education Service District Superintendent Dave Novotney.
Brown said Novotney would help Newberg a couple of days a week at no charge.
Lisa Freiley, an attorney with the Willamette ESD, is assisting Newberg in its superintendent replacement process. Freiley said Novotney offered to help create a “quiet sense of moving forward.”
“From his perspective, he felt that the best way he could support the school district would be supporting students and staff and focus on the teaching and learning and supporting district administration in day-to-day operations that they’re all having to pick up...right now,” Freiley said.
Though Brown met with Novotney, other board members have not. Those conversations will likely happen at a board meeting next week.
The board also heard from two search firms offering their services in hiring a permanent superintendent. They were asked to answer five questions related to timeline, timing around the holidays, community engagement, recruitment, and how to encourage candidates to apply.
The first search consultant, Rob Hess with Oregon-based Breakthrough Consulting, offered two timeline options for hiring Newberg’s next superintendent: a “compressed timeline” that would start before the holiday break and end with an offer in mid-January, and a longer timeline that would continue over the spring, with opportunities for community engagement.
Some board members expressed concerns about transparency and equity in a “compressed” search that would mostly take place behind closed doors, in school board executive sessions (that the public are not allowed to attend).
Some parts of superintendent searches do typically take place in executive sessions, including interviews. But the board is required to seek public comment on the standards and criteria for a superintendent, and the hiring of a superintendent must be public.
The second candidate, Doug Nelson from national firm McPherson and Jacobson, said he would not be able to commit to a six-week timeline. Nelson added that a two-month timeline is the “minimum” amount of time a search could take.
Nelson also indicated that, if picked to lead the search, it would not start until after the holiday break.
McPherson and Jacobson are currently leading the process to find the new superintendent for Greater Albany Public Schools, another Oregon district whose school board fired its superintendent this year.
Among the questions the board asked of the two men, chair Brown asked about bringing in candidates to lead a district that’s “divided.”
“Do you feel like we can bring in candidates that will be interested in coming here to a difficult job, a hard job?” Brown asked Hess.
Hess said he’d reach out to people he knows who could help Newberg, and bring in “high quality candidates who are willing to do the job and want to do the job.”
Nelson said the district needs an experienced superintendent who “understands the dynamics of a school board.”
But Nelson also said Newberg’s board isn’t alone in its issues.
“School boards all over the state, all over the nation, are having tremendous disagreements,” Nelson said.
“This COVID thing has caused all kinds of ferment wherever...of the school boards I’m working with right now, they’re divided, and they have been.”
The board did not make a decision on which firm to hire.
Even before Tuesday’s official board meeting, there were reports of Chair Brown approaching potential candidates for the job, including current superintendent of the Alsea School District and Republican candidate for governor, Marc Thielman.
During Tuesday’s meeting, board member Rebecca Piros asked Brown if he’d approached Newberg assistant superintendent Derek Brown about taking over as interim superintendent.
Chair Dave Brown confirmed that he asked Derek Brown, who said no, but that was different than “offering” him the position. According to Piros, that exchange was not shared with the board or the public.
In a statement shared with the school district community on Nov. 30, Chair Brown indicated that he wants the search for the next superintendent to be “transparent and in line with district policy.”
The board will meet again on Dec. 14. Brown indicated there may be another meeting on Dec. 16 focused on hearing from the Newberg community about the superintendent search.