Salem-Keizer school board approves new superintendent

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
March 8, 2023 3:01 a.m.

Andrea Castañeda, currently serving in a cabinet-level role at Tulsa Public Schools, will succeed superintendent Christy Perry, who’s retiring at the end of the school year.

Oregon’s second-largest school district will have a new superintendent this summer.

Tuesday, the Salem-Keizer school board approved the hiring of Andrea Castañeda as the school district’s next superintendent, effective July 1, 2023.


Castañeda’s hiring follows a monthslong superintendent search to replace Christy Perry, who announced last year that she would retire from the district’s top job at the end of the year.

She comes from Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma, where she’s been serving as the district’s chief talent and equity officer. Castañeda previously worked as that district’s chief innovation and strategy officer, and before that, she held state education roles in Rhode Island.

Andrea Castañeda, currently serving in a cabinet-level role at Tulsa Public Schools, will succeed superintendent Christy Perry, who’s retiring at the end of the school year.

Andrea Castañeda, currently serving in a cabinet-level role at Tulsa Public Schools, will succeed superintendent Christy Perry, who’s retiring at the end of the school year.

Courtesy of Salem-Keizer Public Schools / OPB

Castañeda has no classroom or experience as a school building administrator, starting her educational career in a school district office. She’s been involved with students through sports, as a coach of middle school basketball, as well as cross country and track.

In an interview with OPB before the board’s decision Tuesday, Castañeda said she’s excited to come back to Oregon, the state she grew up in.

“Community really matters to me,” she said. “It’s part of the reason that I have only ever in 20 years lived and served in two places. And it’s the reason that I am so eager to join the Salem-Keizer community. It’s because I think schools are the centerpiece and we have to spend time together to know how to build towards greatness.”

On Tuesday night the board also approved the new superintendent’s three-year contract with a $285,000 salary.

In a press release shared by the district, school board chair Ashley Carson Cottingham spoke of the hiring process and said Castañeda will drive the district “to achieve extraordinary outcomes for our students.”

“I am proud of the work the board has done throughout this process, with the input from our staff, families and community members to guide us,” Carson Cottingham continued. “We could all see Andrea’s immense talent, coupled with her empathy and self-reflection — making her the clear choice to serve as our next superintendent at this critical moment for public schools.”

The six-month search process led by the district and Human Capital Enterprises started with a survey and focus groups to hear from community members, staff, and families. It ended with community panels for three superintendent finalists before the board landed on Castañeda as their top pick.


“Castañeda authentically articulated her ability to lead effectively through challenges and implement meaningful action while finding creative ways to engage students and communities. I feel that she will become a strong member of our community, having the empathy and humility needed for our district to unite,” said West Salem High School senior and school board student advisor Isaac McDonald in the district press release.

Castañeda grew up in small towns in southern and central Oregon, in what she called “rural ranching and logging communities.” She said coming back to Oregon is a “homecoming.”

“Some of the most important parts of my young life all had happened in Oregon,” Castañeda said. “It’s where I learned to drive. It’s where I learned to ski. It’s where I learned to ride a bike.”

Tulsa and Salem-Keizer are similar-sized districts, with Tulsa serving almost 34,000 students compared to Salem-Keizer’s 39,488 enrollment. Both districts also serve a majority of students of color, most of them Latino, though Tulsa serves more Black students.

Castañeda is coming to the district at a time when student achievement in the district lags behind other large Oregon districts when it comes to graduation rates and state tests.

Before officially starting the superintendent job in July, she will make monthly visits to Salem-Keizer to get to know the school community and spend more time in schools with students and staff.

“I haven’t been a teacher and I haven’t been a building administrator and that’s why it’s even more of a responsibility for me to make sure that I understand the true reality every day of those roles,” she said.

In addition to her listening tour, Castañeda said she will continue the district’s expansion of its dual language programs, career technical education offerings and parent engagement efforts. She said her own story — from feeling supported, then “academically unprepared” and losing confidence in herself, to finding public education — drives her to create “equitable and just” schools.

“I got on the public education train when I was 20 and I have never gotten off,” Castañeda said. “And it’s because I want every student to have this choice-filled life that schools gave me.”

With her hiring, Castañeda noted that Oregon’s three largest school districts will all be led by Latino administrators. Guadalupe Guerrero has led Portland Public Schools since 2017 and Beaverton superintendent Gustavo Balderas is wrapping up his first year in the role. She also noted Oregon’s changing demographics, where Latino student enrollment has grown over the last few years.

Castañeda said she’s looking forward to starting in her role.

“If I had to distill my feelings down at this very moment to three, it is energized, committed and grateful,” Castañeda said.

As her time in Salem schools winds down, outgoing superintendent Christy Perry, Oregon’s 2021 superintendent of the year, is getting ready to pass the torch.

“I know she [Castañeda] is just as excited as I am for her upcoming visits, which will allow her to see our students in action and to begin building deep connections with our families and community partners,” Perry said.

“Although it’s hard to believe I only have a few short months left serving as our district’s superintendent, I leave this role confident that we have found the right person to lead the important and necessary work ahead.”


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