After nearly three hours of secret deliberations Friday over who should lead Oregon's largest school district, the Portland school board isn't ready to announce a finalist.
Board chair Tom Koehler said that, after discussing their three finalists at length, board members plan to continue to do due diligence work to further vet potential superintendents and hope to announce "next steps" sometime mid to late next week.
This week marked the second time board members had interviewed the trio of candidates. Board members interviewed five people earlier this month in order to winnow the field to three finalists. After those interviews, board members felt they should interview a sixth person, so they interviewed one more candidate.
Koehler would not say whether board members felt that was needed because a candidate or candidates dropped out or the current pool didn't meet board expectations.
Board members are weighing not only their reactions to the candidates' accomplishments, answers and demeanor but the opinions of a large committee of interested Portlanders who also interviewed the three finalists at length behind closed doors this week. That group included teachers, parents, high level-district employees, a student and student advocates, and reportedly came away with strong opinions about the candidates' fitness for the job.
Leading Oregon's largest school district is not a job for an inexperienced leader or the faint of heart, particularly at this juncture. The district is rife with vacancies in key positions and is undergoing what board members said was a badly needed restructuring of its upper ranks to improve clarity, accountability and communication.
Once the board settles on a lone choice, board members plan to send a small group to the person's current school district to triple-check that they have made the right selection before voting to make the hire and offering a long-term contract.
In all, the board weighed 34 applicants, some of whom were recruited by a search firm. Only nine sitting superintendents applied, along with two former superintendents. More of those who sought Portland Public Schools' top position were assistant superintendents, deputy superintendents or chief academic officers looking to make their mark as a district's No. 1.
Portland Public Schools is used to hiring superintendents who arrive with experience helming a district. That was the case with Jack Bierwirth (1992), Ben Canada (1998) and Vicki Phillips (2004).
But the most recent superintendent, Carole Smith, had only been the top leader of a small system of Portland alternative schools and the chief of staff to then-superintendent Phillips when she was offered the superintendent's job. She lasted in the role for nearly a decade before being sidelined by the lead crisis.
-- Bethany Barnes
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