PPS picks up Forest Grove superintendent who resigned mid-year
Portland Public Schools picked up a neighboring superintendent in its quest to fill dozens of administrative vacancies.
In a Monday announcement, the district celebrated the acquisition of Yvonne Curtis, who announced her resignation Dec. 12 as Forest Grove School District superintendent. The mid-year resignation followed nine years leading the district and the May election of a slate of school board members seen as an indictment of Curtis.
See previous coverage: Forest Grove school superintendent resigns
PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said he had been putting out feelers even before he started in August to rebuild the district.
"I knew that that was going to require a superstar team," Guerrero said. "Dr. Curtis distinguished herself as a champion for the most underserved students, one of the many reasons I'm thrilled to have her join Portland Public Schools."
Curtis will be PPS deputy superintendent of instruction and school communities, in charge of improving academic achievement and outcomes for students. That will include narrowing the achievement gap between students of color and white and Asian students, improving the graduation rate and launching the stalled opening of two new middle schools in north and northeast Portland.
"It's time for me to do this," Curtis said at the Monday press conference, attended by press and several dozen onlookers at the Blanchard Educational Service Center. "The part I love the most is focusing on teaching and learning."
Curtis will make $195,000 in the new position. As with former PPS superintendent Carole Smith, controversy erupted over her compensation package in Forest Grove, which this year exceeded $180,000. Curtis had a three-year contract signed in May and left Forest Grove with more than $80,000 in payments, in part paying off remaining vacation time.
John Hayes, a former Forest Grove school board chair who was voted out of office this year, says Curtis is a great hire for the state's large urban district.
"I thought she was doing a fabulous job," Hayes said, noting years of glowing annual reviews from the school board. "There are complaints about Yvonne and her tenure. But I think those can be chalked up to the fact that Oregon so vastly underfunds schools that it's an impossible job."
Curtis' legacy at Forest Grove includes broad diversity training, improvements to its dual language programs and a major strategic planning effort. It also includes a controversy particularly among Gales Creek community residents at the 2012 closure of its elementary school. The school was converted to Oak Grove Academy, a school for children with significant behavioral and developmental support needs.
The current Forest Grove school board launched an investigation of Curtis, and survey responses released this week show a sharply negative picture of the longtime superintendent. Many respondents said she was not supportive of her staff.
The semi-rural district on the western edge of the Portland metro area has about 6,000 students; much smaller than Portland Public's nearly 50,000.
Since the 2016 discovery of lead in school drinking water, PPS has been roiled by mass departures, resignations and firings. There are currently 59 posted administrative positions, though the superintendent is in the process of restructuring the offices.
"I wouldn't wish that on anybody," Hayes said of Curtis' new workplace. "It's a school district not only under the microscope, it's been beset with huge problems."
However, describing Curtis as a coalition-builder, Hayes expressed confidence in her ability to stand up to the pressures. "If anybody can survive and thrive in that context, that Yvonne Curtis is somebody who would."
Watch Guerrero's speech welcoming Curtis:
Watch some of Curtis' comments as she takes on her new role: