Dismissal of Newberg superintendent sparks howls of protest
The Newberg school board's termination of the contract of Superintendent Joe Morelock has elicited howls of protest and a flurry of activity since the 4-3 decision on Nov. 9. And it doesn't appear that response will abate any time soon.
The effort of the conservative majority on the board — Chairman Dave Brown, vice-chairman Brian Shannon and directors Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart — to replace Morelock has resulted in the addition of a second recall effort against one of the four — namely the chairman.
Zach Goff, the chief petitioner in the recall effort against Shannon currently underway, represents a group of citizens who will also attempt to hold Brown responsible for the board's recent actions.
"The paperwork at this point has been filed with the county and Secretary of State, who's approval we have already received," Goff said in an email.
In order to qualify for placement on the ballot next year, petitioners must gather a minimum of 2,547 verified voter signatures and submit them within three months of Nov. 15's filing.
Goff said Brown's recent behavior demanded action.
"After Dave Brown's pointed efforts to swiftly fire Superintendent Joe Morelock with no cause, we at (Recall Brian Shannon) received many requests calling for the recall of Brown," Goff said. "I think the majority have recognized the financial harm to the district and the disruption to an already tumultuous school year a rushed decision like that can cause. … This is beyond about social issues or political divides. This is about keeping Newberg/Dundee in a functioning education system and actually saving our school district."
Superintendents sound off on firing
The board's action in axing the superintendent has also caused the ire of many of his contemporaries in northwest Oregon.
"Dr. Joe Morelock is our respected colleague, admired leader and trusted administrator among communities in his district and throughout the Willamette Valley region," a group of nearly a dozen superintendents said in a prepared statement issued last week. "By terminating Dr. Morelock, members of the Newberg school board have attempted to silence him, his cabinet and the community about very real issues that all of our districts must face."
The organization went on to recommend the board immediately reinstate Morelock as superintendent, "in order to preserve and continue his good work in the district and to send a strong message that future leaders will be able to work through issues that arise."
The group went on to stress the importance of school boards working closely with administrators: "Decisions around district leadership are windows into how a school board's decision-making is happening, their attention to the legal rights of employees and their ability to ensure financial stability in the district. Even when there are concerns, we must still try, again and again, to work together and rebuild collegiality and trust to ensure our students can reach their full potential. … When a superintendent is supported in their leadership role by a school board as they work to make needed improvements, they are making the most of every opportunity to grow. Our local communities deserve transparency and to have a say in these kinds of decisions so that growth and solutions can be possible."
Board secretary resigns
The Newberg school board's decisions may come into sharper focus in the coming weeks as they attempt to conduct business without a key member of the team. District Communications Coordinator Gregg Koskela acknowledged last week that school board secretary Jenn Nelson had resigned her post, but he declined to comment on whether the board's actions precipitated her departure. Nelson joined the team in February.
Koskela said the school district is seeking a temporary board secretary and characterized the position as possessing "a high level of responsibility and interaction with district administrators, outside governmental agencies, the public and the news media, as well as the board of directors. The board secretary publicizes the agenda, creates the board packet, gives notice of meetings, takes minutes, facilitates the Zoom online session, and keeps records, alongside other duties."
Koskela said in Nelson's absence Assistant Superintendent Dr. Derek Brown and the superintendent's cabinet will "cover responsibilities as needed until the board names an interim superintendent."
Attempts to contact Nelson for comment were unsuccessful.
BIPOC Caucus condemns board's actions
The Oregon Legislature's Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus, which consists of state representatives and senators primarily from the majority Democratic party, admonished the board's actions in a statement released soon after Morelock's contract was terminated.
"This … rushed vote is part of a disturbing trend of targeting and censoring education leaders who are committed to creating opportunity for all students to succeed," the statement read. "Firing a superintendent is a serious matter and disrupts the education of students who deserve a safe, quality opportunity to learn. … As legislators, it is our job to take action when there is injustice. This means ensuring school boards are held accountable; that there is access to training around educational equity and governance that is action-oriented for leaders; securing students a say and a voice at the policy making table; and making sure superintendents' jobs are protected when they are simply following the law."
Bonamici weighs in on board's actions
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Newberg as part of the 1st Congressional District, said in a prepared statement, that she has been closely following the school board's actions over the past several months. The chairwoman of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services added that she is distressed at what she has witnessed but recognized that the conservative board members' actions are part of a nationwide trend.
"Removing Superintendent Morelock from his post is part of a troubling national trend of extremist school boards ousting experienced, valuable school leaders, which is detrimental to the students they are supposed to serve," she said. "Unfortunately, a few school board members are forcing through these inappropriate, and possibly illegal, changes, which will have long-lasting consequences and threaten student safety."
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