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Schools superintendent will stay on through 2022 after glowing reviews from board

Portland Public Schools board members admit the district may have been directionless in the past, but, they say, if they got one thing right, it was hiring Guadalupe Guerrero to steer the ship.

GuerreroGuerrero, who came on as superintendent in 2017, was given a two-year contract extension after a unanimous board vote Tuesday, June 25.

"When you walked in the door, PPS was in trouble," Director Rita Moore told the superintendent. "Basic foundational structures were just totally absent. You have brought a focus on students that has been absent in PPS for far too long."

Outgoing director Julie Esparza Brown, who, along with two others, served in her last board meeting Tuesday, said hiring Guerrero was one of her proudest achievements.

"I have not seen anybody work as hard and with such dedication and urgency as you have," Esparza Brown told the superintendent.

Guerrero was hired in October 2017, after the district's former superintendent, Carole Smith, left in 2016 amid heavy backlash over PPS's handling of reports of lead in school drinking water.

He came to the district from the San Francisco Unified School District and holds two master's degrees from Harvard University.

Others said since coming on board two years ago, Guerrero not only has helped implement strategic and long-range planning, but has guided the district toward a focus on students and student outcomes.

That's important, because a state audit released in early 2019 showed the district had a history of poor oversight and evaluation of its own spending, and a "lack of focus" that led to economically disadvantaged students and students of color being impacted the most.

The report showed that while the Oregon Department of Education "does relatively little to support and monitor efficient district spending," PPS spends more on support services than on instruction for students, and hasn't "prioritized principal or teacher stability at high poverty schools."

"How can you have an organization this large without a strategic plan?" Director David Bailey asked rhetorically during the superintendent evaluation, referring to previous management. "That kind of explains why we have the results that we have for our kids."

Guerrero acknowledged the district's progress, but also hinted at the work that lies ahead.

"We're not going to be satisfied until we start to see the needle move for all kids in this district," Guerrero said.

New vision adopted

On the same evening the board voted to keep Guerrero for another two years, the elected officials also adopted a vision plan that puts students at the center of the district's core values. The plan is described as "an ambitious call-to-action to the city and community to support the students of PPS."

The vision plan seeks to better prepare students to thrive in a "rapidly changing world" where they can be confident, communicate and lead on global and social justice issues.

The district shared a vision that focuses on a wide-range of structural and broad support system, but leaders acknowledged they also need to see concrete, measurable improvements.

The most recent data available shows Portland Public Schools' graduation rate is just under 71%.

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