The Newberg school district has named a new superintendent: Stephen Phillips.
Phillips will start in the role once his contract is finalized. After the school board fired previous superintendent Joe Morelock without cause last November the district brought in the superintendent of the Willamette Education Service District, Dave Novotney, to serve as Newberg’s part-time interim superintendent.
The board voted 5-2 Tuesday night to enter into a contract with Phillips after a discussion about the decision in an executive session. Board chair Dave Brown, vice-chair Brian Shannon, and board members Renee Powell, Trevor DeHart, and newly appointed member Raquel Peregrino de Brito voted yes, and board members Rebecca Piros and Brandy Penner voted no.
Phillips most recently served as the superintendent of the Jewell school district in Oregon’s Coast Range. After serving in the top role since 2019, he was put on paid leave in March pending the results of an investigation. According to the Daily Astorian, board members have not shared the reason for the investigation. Before taking the job in Jewell, Phillips worked in Beaverton but was forced to resign in 2018 after retweeting an offensive remark about undocumented immigrants.
The Newberg School District has faced a school year full of controversy after the board’s conservative majority took action last year to ban employees from displaying “political” or “controversial” signs, a measure that started as a ban on Black Lives Matter and pride flags. In the months since the ban was passed, the board fired its superintendent, and numerous school and district administrators have resigned from the district over the year.
The board chair and vice-chair faced recall elections earlier this year, and another board member resigned in February.
The Oregon legislature passed a bill earlier this year to protect superintendents from “no cause” firings, with supporters citing other superintendent terminations in Adrian and Albany.
Phillips was chosen out of three finalists which included Dan Busch, a former Newberg school administrator currently serving as the assistant superintendent of the Silver Falls School District, and Jacob Hall, an administrator in the Woodland School District in Washington. During public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting, many community members showed support for Phillips, with a few expressing support for Busch.
The school board was originally set to announce its superintendent pick at a meeting on April 26, but the board decided to re-interview Phillips and Busch before making a decision at the May 10 meeting.
Joe Morelock, the superintendent fired from Newberg with no cause given, is now leading the Woodburn School District.