Lora de la Cruz, an area superintendent and learning community director for the Aurora Public School District in Colorado, has been selected as the next superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District.
School Board members offered the job to de la Cruz after an extensive application process that started with community focus groups and an online survey in September and concluded with a daylong series of interviews on Monday.
De la Cruz accepted the job Monday night, pending final contract negotiations, and the decision was announced by the board at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
She will replace Interim Superintendent Michael Musick, who announced last month that he would not apply for the open superintendent position. Musick was chosen in January to replace Heather Beck, who left at the end of the 2017-18 school year to become deputy head of school for the Canadian International School in Singapore.
De la Cruz will officially begin her new job on July 1, 2019, although she said Monday that she expects to spend time in Lake Oswego each month between January and July, "deepening my understanding of district priorities, student achievement, family engagement and community partnerships."
"I am excited to join the Lake Oswego School District and community. As I have gotten to know the work of this district, I have been very impressed with the focus on the whole child, high academic standards and the diversity, equity and inclusion work. The bond work underway is a wonderful opportunity to innovate our schools and to positively impact teaching and learning," de la Cruz told The Review. "Clearly, there are many great things already going on in Lake Oswego schools, and I look forward to joining this supportive community as we work together to evolve our school district to its next level of greatness."
More than 1,200 potential candidates from 47 states expressed interest in the LOSD job, according to James Hager, an advisor with Ray & Associates, the firm hired to conduct the nationwide search. Seventy-five candidates completed the application process, Hager said — the largest number of applicants that his firm has ever received.
From that pool, 14 candidates were recommended to the board for consideration. That list was narrowed to eight semifinalists and then to the three finalists — two women and an African American man — who were interviewed this week by board members and a panel that consisted of three classified employees, four teachers, two principals and David Salerno Owens, the district's director of equity and strategic initiatives.
The board voted unanimously for de la Cruz. She was offered a starting salary of $245,000, plus a complete benefit package that includes allowances for travel and professional development.
"Dr. de la Cruz's dad lost his life in service to our country in Vietnam when she was only 5 years old. Her life story is both humbling and inspiring. She was the youngest of five children whose mom raised all five kids as an immigrant widow. Her life was transformed by education, as is every child," said board Chair Bob Barman. "I believe without reservation that she will work to make sure every single child has every possible opportunity because of the life experience that she has lived. We are so incredibly fortunate that Dr. de la Cruz is willing to join us in the great work of moving our community and school forward."
De la Cruz brings more than 30 years of educational leadership experience to the district. In her current role as an area superintendent/learning community director, she supervises a group of 10 principals and instructional coaches, coordinators and support personnel for Aurora Public Schools, a highly diverse district outside Denver that serves 40,000 students and 5,000 staff members.
During her tenure, she has been a leader in the comprehensive redesign and implementation of a districtwide, data-driven instructional program focused on literacy and learning. Because of those efforts, the district has seen significant growth in both reading and math scores — enough to move some schools off the state performance watch list.
In Aurora, de la Cruz coordinates the Gifted and Talented program, the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support program (similar to the LOSD's Response to Intervention, which provides individual attention to keep struggling students on track to graduate), social/emotional support initiatives, Special Education services, and programs that work with culturally and linguistically diverse learners.
"Dr. de la Cruz has rich experience implementing data-driven instruction and professional development for the complete PreK-12 curriculum," board member John Wallin told The Review. "She will ensure that all students in our district will get the most out of their educational experience, from academic and career success to arts and athletic achievement."
Jose Leyba, director of the Association for Latino Administrators and Superintendents' Superintendent Leadership Academy, agrees.
"Dr. de la Cruz has been successful in closing and narrowing achievement and opportunity gaps among various groups of students," he said. "She has an unwavering conviction that all students, no matter their circumstances, can succeed."
It was that characteristic that stood out most to board members Rob Wagner and Sara Pocklington.
"Dr. de la Cruz is an exceptional leader with school districts on implementing change for all students through an equity lens," Wagner said Monday night. "She is a passionate advocate for children, and I'm thrilled to have her passion and talent coming to Lake Oswego next year."
Added Pocklington: "I'm particularly excited about her experience with multi-tiered systems of support, which has the potential to be game changing in the elimination of barriers to student success."
De la Cruz, who is bilingual, began her career in 1993 as a K-6 classroom teacher, literacy specialist and Gifted and Talented specialist in the Boulder Valley and Santa Fe school districts. She served as assistant vice principal for a K-8 school in Boulder Valley for two years and then as principal for two different schools from 2008 to 2017 before moving to her current position.
She received her Doctor of Education degree in Leadership for Educational Equity from the University of Colorado Denver, her Master of Education degree in Kinesiology Education from the University of Texas at Austin and her Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation Administration from Texas State University.
Her colleagues in Colorado call her mission-driven, accountable, focused, strategic and collaborative.
"You can count on Lora to collaborate closely with all stakeholders to establish priorities for improvement," said Kandy Steel, the former director of leadership development for Aurora Public Schools. "She will be a visible leader, and she will respect and honor the contributions of parents and community members."
Rod Blunck, associate clinical professor in the University of Colorado Denver's School of Education and Human Development, said de la Cruz will lead with integrity and honesty and build "a climate of trust and respect among all stakeholders."
That's exactly why de la Cruz was the district's first choice, according to board member Liz Hartman.
"Our board acknowledges that we have a community with high expectations," she said. "We believe Dr. de la Cruz will meet the challenges our community offers, build solid relationships and use district resources with integrity and honesty to be the educational leader that our district expects and respects."
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