FGSD superintendent finalists answer community questions
Forest Grove community members got a chance to hear from the finalists for superintendent for the Forest Grove School District on Monday, April 30, ahead of an expected decision on who will be the next man to lead the school district.
The four candidates answered questions submitted by audience members at the public meet-and-greet. The questions ranged from personal interests, to professional goals and everything in between, to determine which individual would best serve the community's students.
With 25 applicants, the board narrowed the search down to four finalists: David Parker, Joseph Morelock, Andrew Rogers and current interim superintendent John O'Neill.
The candidates are vying to succeed Yvonne Curtis, who served as superintendent of the Forest Grove School District for nine years before abruptly resigning in December and accepting a job with Portland Public Schools, Oregon's largest K-12 school district.
Three of the candidates currently work in the Portland metropolitan area. In addition to the internal candidate O'Neill, Parker comes from the Newberg School District, while Morelock works at the Lake Oswego School District. Both are assistant superintendents.
Rogers is the only out-of-state candidate, as well as the only superintendent of the four, not counting O'Neill, who has been filling the position on an interim basis since Curtis' resignation. He works at the Liberty Elementary School District in Arizona. O'Neill brought 16 years of experience working in the Forest Grove School District, including a stint as principal of Forest Grove High School, to the top office when he was named to fill Curtis' job until a permanent successor was hired. He mentioned not only having an advantage working in the district for so many years, but that having his kids go through the district as well gives him a unique perspective.
"I've always had the commitment that I live in the community that I work in, and I've always had the commitment that my kids would be in the schools of the district," he said.
O'Neill focused on his experience helping to build dual-language programs in the schools and said he would continue to grow these programs and look to hire more bilingual teachers, should he become the superintendent.
"Talk about college and career 21st-century skills — to be bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural, that's a terrific outcome," he said.
Rogers, who has worked as the superintendent of the Liberty Elementary School District in Arizona for the last 10 years, said he is ready to make his way back to the Pacific Northwest, having spent most of his career in Washington before moving to Arizona.
"I'm really a Northwest guy. ... Kind of at this point in my life, it's time for our family to return to the Northwest," he said.
Coming from a relatively small school district west of Phoenix, Rogers said he is looking for another close-knit community like Forest Grove.
"I was really attracted to this position because of the community, and what this community is about," he said. "It's about their kids, and it's about all kids being successful and getting a great education."
Starting as a special education teacher after finishing school, Rogers said that role helped shape his career.
"My experience as a special education teacher really taught me a lot and has really influenced my entire career as a teacher and as a leader in education," he said. "In that my deep commitment is that all students experience success and get a world-class education regardless of their circumstances."
Parker works as assistant superintendent of the Newberg School District, but he is a veteran of the Forest Grove School District as well.
"My pathway to the superintendent is kind of a circular one in that it really starts here in Forest Grove," he said.
After graduating from Portland State University with a degree in chemistry, and attending graduate school for business, Parker decided to pursue a teaching certificate instead, getting his first job at Forest Grove High School.
He then spent 22 years in the Hillsboro School District teaching various subjects, helping to open Century High School as well as South Meadows Middle School in Hillsboro.
"I like this area," Parker said. "I'm looking for a district that's the right size, has the right focus on instruction."
Asked about a student walkout that occurred at Forest Grove High School after a banner with "build the wall" written on it was hung by a student, Parker said even he is searching for the right answers to issues of disparity surrounding race in schools.
"These are all things that I'm learning too," he said. "But I'm a person who sits down and works with people. ... We sit down and we learn together. I don't know all the answers, but I do know I want to bring people together and start talking about it and solving those problems as they come up."
Morelock, who is currently the assistant superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District, also has Forest Grove bona fides — he got his master's degree in teaching at Pacific University.
Morelock then worked in the Canby School District for 21 years, starting as a Spanish teacher, before transferring over to Lake Oswego.
"I'm excited about Forest Grove. I'd love to work within a diverse community," he said. "The last four years, I've not used much Spanish and I've not worked among much diversity, and frankly, I really enjoy that part of the work."
Morelock said he was impressed by the community in Forest Grove already.
"(I've been lucky enough) to work in districts that really support their schools and have a strong community connection that people show up to events, like this — that people are engaged and want to ask questions and want to be involved," he said.
As a Spanish-speaker himself, Morelock expressed support for with dual-language programs, describing the work being done to support bilingualism in schools as "very exciting."
"If you consider students who come with another language as an asset, not as a deficiency, you can then imagine things in a whole new way," he said.
The candidates toured district schools on Monday before the evening forum. The Forest Grove School Board held one final interview for each candidate on Tuesday, May 1, with a final decision expected to be announced shortly.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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