Portland Public Schools Picks San Francisco Administrator As Superintendent

By Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB) and Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Aug. 11, 2017 4:45 p.m.

Spanish version (versión en español): Las Escuelas Públicas De Portland Seleccionan A Latino Como Superintendente


Related: Las Escuelas Públicas De Portland Seleccionan A Un Latino Como Superintendente

Portland Public School Board members have made their pick for a new superintendent.

In a special board meeting Friday, the board voted to offer the job to Guadalupe Guerrero, a deputy superintendent from San Francisco Unified School District. Guerrero oversees instruction, innovation and social justice at SFUSD. Guerrero will receive a $295,000 annual salary.

The board said Guerrero, who has already applied for his Oregon superintendent's license, brings great understanding of classroom teaching and the challenges facing teachers.

“He has really has a tremendous focus on equity for historically underserved districts," board member Amy Kohnstamm said during the meeting confirming the pick.

"He's got the mix of skills and the passion, the commitment — the commitment to Portland," said vice chair Rita Moore. "This is as good as I could have hoped. I think this is going to be great for Portland students."

Portland has been seeking a new leader for a year, since longtime Superintendent Carole Smith retired early amid controversy over how her administration handled news of high lead levels in school drinking water.

The Portland School Board unanimously voted to hire Guadalupe Guerrero to head Portland Public Schools as its next superintendent, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.

The Portland School Board unanimously voted to hire Guadalupe Guerrero to head Portland Public Schools as its next superintendent, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.

Courtesy Portland Public Schools

In May, Atlanta school administrator Donyall Dickey turned down an offer to become Portland's newest superintendent in a surprising and embarrassing blow to PPS, one that informed what board chair Julia Brim-Edwards called an "exhaustively comprehensive" process for picking a new candidate this time around.

Brim-Edwards laid out the search process. Candidates underwent hours of interviews with the board and community stakeholders. Brim-Edwards said background checks went back much further than the last round of the selection process. Candidates were also asked to bring data from the school districts they worked with.

During both searches, the board strived to keep the names of candidates private. Suzanne Cohen, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, said members of the teachers' union were disappointed in how closed the process seemed to be. Teachers served on a stakeholder group that provided input, but she says members felt their involvement wasn't taken seriously.

"We’re pretty disappointed about how the process happened. We have had very little involvement. We have not been able to give input or feedback," she said. "So we don’t actually know a lot about the candidate."

But what she does know, she likes: "One of the things we’re most excited about is his experience, starting as a para-educator, then becoming a classroom teacher, then an administrator," she said. "We were definitely looking for someone who had a deep understanding of the classroom."

Richard Carranza hired Guerrero as assistant superintendent at SFUSD before promoting him to the deputy superintendent position he currently holds. Carranza, who now serves as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, said Portland "hit a home run" with its pick.

"The children of Portland Public Schools have just scored a huge win," Carranza said. "We worked shoulder to shoulder on some very challenging and difficult and, some would say, intractable student achievement issues, and we were able to move the ball. He was co-architect of a lot of that work."

At Friday morning's school board meeting, Kohnstamm walked through the reasons that Guerrero was a good fit — including his being a "systems thinker" and a strong education leader.

"We feel a high degree of confidence that he’s a match for this system," she said.

Co-vice chair Julie Esparza Brown said it’s a historic day for Latinos in Portland, saying Latino students often have to “look long and hard” for role models. Guerrero has more than 20 years of experience in public schools, serving as a district leader, a school principal and a bilingual teacher. His wife is a second-grade teacher.

Like Dickey, the board's previous pick, Guerrero has never run a school system before. He was a finalist but did not get the job as superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, where he'd been a principal before returning to San Francisco.

PPS board members described Guerrero as a potentially transformative leader for a school system that has suffered a series of public relations embarrassments and personnel changes. They said they expect Guerrero to be a strong representative for both Portland and the entire state in debates about school funding.

"Leaders in San Francisco United and community leaders in San Francisco have spoken glowingly to me about Mr. Guerrero's ability to work productively with politicians and political bodies at all levels and of all stripes," said board member Paul Anthony.