Woodburn Superintedent states complaint originated in response to carrying out ODE policy promoting racial equity and social justice in schools

Parents and other community members who care about racial equity and accountability have good reason to be concerned about recent actions by the Woodburn School Board.

I was hired to be the district's superintendent and started in that position 10 months ago. Board members praised my immigrant experience and my successful social justice and equity work in another school district.

I was supposed to lead progress on accountability and equity for all students. Recognizing that change takes time, I was given a three-year contract.

COURTESY PHOTO: RICK VASQUEZ - Woodburn School District Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson came on board July 1, 2020, and hit the ground running.As the district's teachers who make up the Woodburn Education Association wrote in a letter to the board on April 12, "During Superintendent Moreno Gilson's tenure we began to see tangible positive changes in district culture."

After listening to the district's senior leaders, board members, and administrators and teachers, I learned that our system was not always working for all of our students.

I made necessary changes in the roles of senior leaders and moved to require that they receive and conduct formal performance evaluations that had not been done for years.

I also prioritized solutions in response to an Oregon Department of Education civil rights audit conducted before I was hired that focused on segregation and a lack of access for vulnerable and at-risk students.

In addition, I worked with the district's leadership team to start carrying out the new Every Student Belongs policy of the Oregon Department of Education and proactively promote racial equity and social justice in the schools.

Then, in January, a senior administrator who I had asked for documentation of the administrator's job performance and who had expressed opposition to my efforts to implement the Every Student Belongs initiative filed a complaint against me with the school board.

Faced with a little pushback, the board backed away from the commitment it made when it hired me. Inexplicably, it immediately placed me on administrative leave and issued a public statement insinuating that I had done something wrong.

Then, the board, through a law firm, chose an investigator to conduct an investigation. I have yet to see a full report from the investigator of her findings, nor have I been given the opportunity to review notes or recordings of any witness interviews.

On April 19, the board will hold the required due process hearing and vote whether to break my contract. However, I am concerned that the board already has made up its mind, given the board statement on April 8 to Oregon Public Broadcasting and other media saying, "We wish Mr. Moreno Gilson well in his future endeavors."

In its April 12 letter, the teachers' association expressed "disappointment" in the board's actions and concern that they would jeopardize the progress we initiated.

"Sadly, since he has been on leave, we have seen these improvements backslide," said the teachers' letter. "A handful of senior managers should not be able to hold back the desire of an entire community to achieve a better, more accountable, more equitable education system in Woodburn."

Instead of wasting more district money on retaliating against me, the board should focus on problem-solving for the benefit of all district families.

Examples would include mandatory equity training for all senior leaders and administrators, an official board resolution affirming requirements for annual performance evaluations, clear board support for my equity and accountability initiatives, and mediation to resolve any other outstanding issues.

All students deserve a school district that provides equity, accountability and quality education. It's time for everyone to come together and refocus on that mission. I'm ready to lead as superintendent.

Oscar Moreno Gilson is superintendent of the Woodburn School District.

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