Ernie Brown will leave his position with the Tigard-Tualatin School District at the end of this school year.

FILE PHOTO - Superintendent Ernie BrownThe Tigard-Tualatin School District announced Friday that Superintendent Ernie Brown will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Brown has a career in the district spanning nearly 30 years. He was hired as a physical education teacher at Fowler Middle School in 1988.

"I absolutely love Tigard-Tualatin," Brown said. "It's the only place I've ever worked. My roots run deep, my ties run deep. But personally, I felt it was the right time for me, and I believe the district is in a really good place right now to make that transition as well."

Brown became superintendent in 2013, replacing Rob Saxton, who left the post to serve as former Gov. John Kitzhaber's statewide schools chief. Brown headed the district's human resources department before that.

"He has a huge work ethic, an eye for detail but also sees the big picture," Saxton told The Times about his successor.

Brown's decision to retire comes just a year after the district passed a $291 million bond measure, which will be used for extensive rebuilding and renovation projects across the district. He said he plans to spend the remainder of the school year ensuring that bond construction is on a steady path for his successor to oversee.

"We've been working on (the bond) going on three years now — the last year, in carrying out these projects," Brown said. "And when we get to the end of this year, we will have completed — for not all projects, but for many of our major projects — we will have completed the design work, and a lot of those really essential components, getting to the point of starting construction. And it's really important that we do that work well."

Another major accomplishment of Brown's tenure was the devising of a new strategic plan, and a new financial strategic plan, for the district. The retiring superintendent wants to make sure those plans are on track before his departure as well.

Looking forward, Brown said that are two key areas where he hopes to see his successor continue the work he started: the integration of new technology, and investing in pre-kindergarten early learning.

The district has a one-to-one technology initiative, meaning it seeks to pair each student with an educational tablet, such as an iPad. Brown said his successor needs to be "very intentional with how we move forward with getting technology devices in the hands of all of our students, and having them utilize those devices in a robust, rigorous way that really enhances their educational experience."

Brown has been an outspoken advocate of early learning, and made it an investment priority in the district's 2017-18 budget. The district implemented Juntos Apprendemos, a preschool program for Spanish-speaking families facilitated by the Portland-based non-profit The Latino Network, during his tenure.

"Full-day kindergarten was an amazing asset for districts across the state, in terms of leveling the playing field," he said. "Now, the next conversation is, how do we drive that even further, and make sure that all of our students are getting that same type of early learning preschool experience, so when they get to kindergarten, they are as prepared as they can be."

Beyond concrete accomplishments and priorities, Brown will leave behind a legacy as a well-liked, collaborative and competent superintendent, according to those who work closely with him. Susan Stark Haydon, the district's director of community relations, called Brown a "truly good person" who is committed to equity and helping students succeed.

When asked by The Times what the district should look for in a replacement, Saxton answered, "I supposed I'd say they need someone like Ernie. The need somebody with vision. Again, somebody who's very trustworthy, and who can bring along a lot of factions: the association, the faculty, the kids, the parents, the community."

When June comes around and the school year comes to an end, Brown isn't entirely sure what his plans will be — though he did say that he's interested in leadership development, and helping new administrators prepare for their positions.

"It's something that I think I can give back with in a meaningful way," he said.

But Brown said he is certain about one thing: he's going to miss the Tigard-Tualatin School District, his home-away-from-home for three decades.

"I'll miss interacting with people that you have strong relationships with, that you care about, around immensely critical work," he said. "These people invigorate you. They energize you. They support you when you need it."

Blair Stenvick
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