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2012 June 26 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: New Leader of Ore. Education To Have Unprecedented Power

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. John Kitzhaber said he did not set out to choose a big name for Oregon’s newly created position of chief education officer. Rather, he wanted a “big talent.”

He hopes to have found his man in Rudy Crew, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education — the nation’s largest school district.

Crew, who was introduced by the governor at a press conference, will have unprecedented power to shape Oregon public education, from preschool to university. The governor wants Crew to transform the system so that every student in the Class of 2025 graduates from high school, and 80 percent of them go on to attain a two- or four-year college degree.

And Crew must complete the task without the promise of a significant boost in state spending.

“We’re definitely asking him to perform miracles,” Kitzhaber joked.

Crew, who will have an annual salary of $280,000, worked as a superintendent of schools in Sacramento, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash., before getting the high-profile New York job in 1995. He left four years later after clashing with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over a proposal to use tax money to send kids to private school. Crew opposed it.

From 2004 to 2008, he was the superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest district. Under his leadership, the district built almost 30 schools and reduced overcrowding, and scores on state achievement tests increased.

But Crew had an acrimonious exit after several members of the school board questioned his management style and financial stewardship amid a budget crisis. He also had a poor relationship with Cuban-American board members after he rejected calls to remove a library book because of its cheerful depiction of life in Cuba.

When asked about the disputes in New York and Miami, Crew said you can’t reform broken systems without upsetting some people.

“I’ve stayed as long as there is essentially the political will to do that kind of work,” he said. “When that will runs out, it’s not unclear what you have to do. You either have to stay and try to fight everybody, which is not tenable, or you have to leave.”

The Legislature created the chief education officer job last year when lawmakers voted to approve Kitzhaber’s plan to improve coordination in a state education system that has 197 school districts, 17 community college districts and seven public universities. The education chief is hired by the new Education Investment Board, whose members were selected by Kitzhaber and are expected to approve his chosen candidate Thursday.

Crew will eventually have control over the leaders of the Department of Education, the university system, the community colleges commission and other state agencies. Moreover, he must oversee the development of achievement compacts spelling out the test scores and graduation rates that school districts, colleges and universities are expected to achieve.

“We’re creating something that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Julia Brim-Edwards, who chaired a screening panel that whittled a pool of 50 candidates to three finalists.

Brim-Edwards and Kitzhaber said Crew has a track record of leadership and innovation that makes him the ideal candidate to quickly shake up the status quo.

Because the position is new and the challenge large, Crew cautioned there will be “slips and slides” toward reaching the ambitious goals sought by the governor.

“We’re going to have to live with a degree of ambiguity about this,” he said. “Nothing wrong with trying and ultimately saying ‘wrong road.’ We got to try it again, again and again. What is wrong is giving up.”

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