Morelock reorganizes district office staff
After eliminating four of 10 senior-level positions as part of nearly $4 million in budget cuts this past spring, staff at the Newberg School District office were already facing a big challenge to provide the same level of service this fall.
Reorganizing the staff got even tougher over the summer with the departure of finance director Ilean Klute and, more recently, director of special programs Candace Pelt, who left to take new positions in Forest Grove and with the Oregon Department of Education, respectively.
Interim superintendent Joe Morelock, however, said he believes the district administration will roll with the punches, thanks in part to a new organizational plan that relies heavily on the versatility of his staff.
"Any time you have a major staff change you have an opportunity to look again at the kind of service you are trying to provide and the people you have, then look for opportunities to improve," he said. "That's what we did in this process. We were trying to figure out what areas need some serious attention and can we do it a different way."
Morelock said that having a broad range of skills and experience beyond that of finance director was a big reason the district tabbed Nikki Fowler to succeed Klute. In addition to CFO duties, Fowler will oversee human resources, which was formerly handled by assistant superintendent Dave Parker before that position was cut and he left to become superintendent in Forest Grove. Fowler will also manage transportation and nutrition services, which were previously managed by Pelt.
"When you put somebody into positions of great authority in a school district, you want to have somebody with as much experience as you can, even if it's not specific to the job you may be hiring them to at that moment," Morelock said of Fowler. "It's an opportunity to have somebody who's got some great skills and experience, then when you're making a change like this, you can plug them in and they can go."
Taking over the bulk of Pelt's other duties will be Derek Brown, who was hired as director of data and assessment in 2017 but will transition to director of teaching and learning, federal programs and assessment. Two of Pelt's biggest responsibilities, special education and English Language Learners (ELL)/migrant programs, however, will be assumed individually by two new teachers on special assignment (ToSA) that have yet to be hired.
Because Pelt covered such a large number programs, Morelock said that distributing her duties would stretch the remaining staff too thin, hence the two ToSA positions. He said he also feels that adding more staff will be good for the special education and ELL/migrant programs, in particular.
"This allows us to better focus on those," Morelock said. "Dr. Brown is an excellent director and leader and he's leading multiple teams. I have full confidence he'll be able to do that."
Luke Neff, who had been serving as director of instructional technology, has also added new responsibilities to his new role as director of strategic partnerships. As part of cuts made early in the 2017-2018 school year to address a drop in enrollment, Neff had already moved his base of operations to the high school so that he could assume librarian duties there. He will continue to manage technology services, but also oversee library services, grant development and acquisitions, and public/private partnerships for the district.
After being hired in 2017 as board secretary and assistant to the superintendent, Gregg Koskela had already picked up for communications coordinator Autumn Foster, whose role was eliminated in the cuts, when she returned to her former position in Canby last spring.
With the district placing an emphasis on improving communication and transparency, Koskela will move into the communications coordinator role. He will continue to serve the board; a new assistant position will be created to provide support to the superintendent, the board and the special education department.
"He'll be out in schools a lot and able to connect with people more than if he had to be here to support me," Morelock said. "There are just some things we have to get done. He will have more flexibility to be out in the public, connecting and engaging with people, being in schools, helping us communicate all the great things happening in Newberg public schools, because there are so many."
The assistant to the superintendent is one of several lower-level positions the district office will add to take some of the burden off of existing staff. That includes a human resources manager under Fowler and a collaboration grant manager under Neff.
Morelock said that while the overall management structure is a little different, adding lower-cost positions to round out the team would be more cost effective. He added that the reorganization will be done without any increases to the district's general fund.
"These are the right changes to maximize the talents of the people we have, to bring in specialized people to empower our staff throughout the district, all while staying fiscally responsible," Morelock said. "It's the right move and I'm excited for us to dive into this school year."