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New Board Members Lead PPS Superintendent Search 2.0

Portland Public Schools’ departing board chairman Tom Koehler is injecting new blood into the next stage of the search for a superintendent.

Koehler named five members of a new search task force, the majority of them board members who were just elected last week. New member Julia Brim-Edwards served on the board more than a decade ago, when it hired a previous superintendent, and Koehler has indicated she’ll chair the new task force. Scott Bailey and Rita Moore also won election last week, and they’ll both serve on the task force.

Two current board members — vice chair Amy Kohnstamm and Julie Esparza Brown — will round out that five-person panel.

That leaves Mike Rosen and Paul Anthony as the only board members not directly involved in the superintendent search as task force members.

It’s a clear sign the leaders of Portland Public Schools are hitting the reset button in their search for the next leader of Oregon’s largest district.

“As a new board member, hiring a new superintendent is a top priority,” Brim-Edwards said in an email to OPB. “We are getting to work right away to recruit and hire a new leader for Portland.”

The last search, conducted by the entire board with the help of a consulting firm, resulted in failure.

Sole finalist Donyall Dickey withdrew, pointing to an interest in publishing and consulting rather than taking the superintendent position. Portland school board members said they had already soured on Dickey, in part because he wanted to continue consulting while working as superintendent.

PPS leaders also mentioned a vetting report they received just days before announcing Dickey would not be superintendent. The district chose to keep that report secret, under pressure from Dickey’s attorney.

The new task force will attempt to turn the page on that failed process and actually replace Carole Smith, who left the district amid a lead-in-the-water crisis nearly a year ago.

Interim superintendent Bob McKean is under contract through June. After that, the district intends for a non-educator, deputy chief executive officer Yousef Awwad, to take over.

The new task force may first decide whether to stick with the firm the district has already paid thousands of dollars or find a new one.

“The task force will review the performance of the recruitment firm and make a recommendation to the board about who will work with the school board on the next steps to hire a new leader,” Brim-Edwards said.

The contract with search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates is for $75,000. Portland Public Schools has already paid HVA more than $65,000, with other expenses still coming in, according to Awwad.

There’s one aspect of the search that may be easier this time around: Recruiters can point to the passage of a $790 million bond measure as evidence that the community that has been sharply critical of the district’s handling of lead and other environmental hazards is also willing to help pay to clean up the problems.

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