Newberg superintendent finalist no stranger to controversy
It seems that the controversy in which the Newberg school board has been immersed in for much of the past eight months may continue.
On April 14, the board named three finalists in the search to fill the superintendent spot that became vacant last fall with the conservative board members' termination of Joe Morelock's contract. The finalists named — Dan Busch, Jacob Hall and Stephen Phillips — individually met with the public and district personnel over a three-day period last week in anticipation of the board's intent to name Moreland's successor on April 26.
However, word quickly surfaced that the board had named Phillips as a finalist for the Newberg job despite controversy surrounding him at his last two school district posts. The background of Phillips' troubles has been public for several months.
According to a story in the Daily Astorian, the Jewell school board placed Phillips on paid administrative leave in March for undisclosed reasons while it conducted an investigation. The board then hired an acting superintendent while Phillips, hired in 2019 at the 175-student district and still on contract with the district, was under investigation.
This was not Phillips' first brush with controversy. In March 2018, Phillips was forced to resign his post as deputy superintendent of the Beaverton School District after he posted on social media a tweet that said immigrants kill thousands of Americans every year and are "more dangerous than assault rifles," OPB reported. The original tweet was distributed by a group calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
The response by the Beaverton community was fast and damning, the OPB story said.
"Our schools are full of children that speak many languages and come from many other places," Trisha Parks, a middle school teacher and former teachers' union rep, told OPB. "(Phillips) is not a good fit for our district and shouldn't be in public education with his views."
Soon after, 14 members of school boards from nearby districts demanded action.
"At a time when English language learners experience stark inequities in educational outcomes, we simply cannot discount the harm that biased school administrators stand to inflict on immigrant and refugee families in the Beaverton School District," a letter from the group said.
The superintendent of the district issued an apology and disavowed his deputy's statements. Phillips resigned the following day.
Phillips also had stirred controversy in the Beaverton school district in 2018 when he sought to ban the book, "Stick" by Andrew Smith from middle school libraries. The young adult novel deals with sexual themes and features a gay main character.
Board interviews finalists in executive sessions
The Newberg school board met in executive sessions over the course of two weeks to interview the finalists for the open superintendent position. Since the media may not report on the content of executive sessions, the board's process to winnow down the number of applicants, or whether the board was privy to Phillips' history, is unknown.
"Discussion regarding candidates were held in executive session and, therefore, will not be disclosed," said Lisa Freiley, the Willamette Education Service District counsel who serves as the board's attorney.
Attempts to gain comment on the process from four members of the board — Chairman Dave Brown, Vice-chairman Brian Shannon and Directors Rebecca Piros and Brandi Penner — were unsuccessful as of press time Saturday morning.
The board received six applications and interviewed five candidates after engaging in a self-directed search process, Freiley said. Recruitment, marketing and other logistical assistance was provided by Northwest Leadership Associates, a Beaverton firm.
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