Lake Oswego School District names Salerno Owens equity director
David Salerno Owens, a Response to Intervention coordinator and freshman transition specialist at Lakeridge High School, has been named director of equity and strategic initiatives by the Lake Oswego School District.
Salerno Owens was chosen after the second of two nationwide searches by the district. In November 2017, the LOSD opted to hire former West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Bill Rhoades as a part-time temporary consultant to guide the district and help develop equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives for the 2017-18 school year. The full-time position of equity director was then posted again in January.
In the meantime, the district has adopted a strategic plan that lists equity, diversity and inclusion as a top priority, launched district and school equity teams and adopted other measures in response to a series of incidents at local schools — including racist graffiti scrawled on bathroom walls, an anti-Semitic photo posted to a cafeteria wall and a hateful Post-it note passed to an African American student.
In his new role, Salerno Owens will "lead the development and implementation of proactive diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that support the district's new strategic plan," said Christine Moses, the LOSD's executive director of communications. "He will lead the development of a vision and effective strategy that champions the importance and value of a diverse and inclusive school environment. And he will engage staff, students and the community at both the district and local school levels to build a welcoming and inclusive culture in Lake Oswego schools."
He will also work to assess district curriculum for signs of cultural biases, Moses said.
"For the past three years, David has been an integral part of our success in improving the graduation rate (at Lakeridge) from 88 percent to 95 percent," said incoming Interim Superintendent Michael Musick. "We are excited to promote from within. His positive rapport with students, teachers and administrators is already in place, and his widely varied background is an asset to our school community."
Salerno Owens begins the new job on July 1.
"I've lived and worked in such varied places," he said Friday. "It gives me a wide perspective on issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity. While I have focused my career on helping students broaden their skills to be successful, I look forward to the challenge of facilitating conversations across the district and community."
In his current position, Salerno Owens supports academically struggling students through the Response to Intervention program, which uses instruction and assessment to identify the learners most at risk of dropping out. Interventions are planned and monitored to make sure students receive the help that they need to learn academic skills, develop better study habits and navigate secondary-level academics.
Salerno Owens also works with students who have anxiety and those students who deal with emotional or social issues, and many of them credit him for their success on the path to graduation.
When former Lakeridge student Amanda Hoch found herself struggling in her junior year because of issues at home, she says she didn't have anyone who motivated her, who believed in her. She turned to Salerno Owens.
"I was going through a lot with my parents and didn't feel like I had any motivation from home to do anything, so to come here and have someone who believed in me helped me a lot," Hoch says.
Same for Nathan Raclot, who moved to Lake Oswego from France and found himself struggling at school last year. Salerno Owens helped him succeed.
"I didn't care about anything," Raclot says, "and he boosted me up."
Before joining the LOSD, Salerno Owens was a GEAR UP Academic Advocate for Portland Public Schools for nearly three years. In the role of academic support advisor, he helped seventh- and eighth-grade students master Algebra and CORE standards curriculum. He also advised students on higher education opportunities through onsite visits, academic monitoring and building their confidence to pursue higher education.
Salerno Owens has also worked with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon to provide education and outreach for mortgage lending to expose unfair and discriminatory practices; with Mirabella to provide food service management for a premier retirement home; and with UCLA UniCamp to provide program management, training and supervision of more than 40 camp counselors during week-long camping sessions for inner city youth.
"Throughout my career, I have empowered adults and students to take initiative to strengthen our communities in ways that honor and celebrate each other," Salerno Owens said. "By building community understanding through empowering our students, we will be able to build trust between students and adults, students and students, and the community and the district. Our work will include creating forums for conversations around restorative practices, social justice, and facilitating a process of learning about other cultures."
Salerno Owens holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Government from Portland State University and a master's in Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services from Lewis & Clark College. He and his wife Laura Salerno Owens have two children and live in Portland.