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Superintendent finalists field questions from public

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For the Keizertimes

The two finalists for superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District met with the public and then with the School Board in executive session April 28 and 29.

Christy Perry, superintendent of the Dallas School District, had her sessions Monday. Erin Prince, superintendent of the Corvallis School District, answered questions from the public and the board Tuesday.

All sessions were at Claggett Creek Middle School in Keizer. Each candidate met with staffers around the district before meeting the public.

Perry said in opening remarks that her vision was for each student in the district to have an effective teacher.

“High standards are essential,” she said,

She noted that kindergartners in her district had become “phenomenal readers and writers.” She added that the schools needed to keep programs that are outside academics.

Noting that she had been asked all week why she thought she could be effective if she moved from the Dallas district to one several times as large, she said: “I’ve worked with the community in many ways. I know every aspect.”

Several questions from the audience concerned the fact that Salem-Keizer students have much more diverse backgrounds than Dallas students. Perry said she could not come into the district with all the answers to diversity-related issues but would work hard to find them.

She added that she has worked well with community organizations and their leaders and knows how to form coalitions.

Asked about the high teenage pregnancy rate in northeast Salem, Perry said that if hired she would study the issue, decide what the county norms are, and work for district-county cooperation toward reducing the rate.

Another question involved her experience in acquiring grants, especially those involving minority issues. She said she has been the grantwriter for the Dallas district and has involved local organizations in getting grants.

Prince, spending more time with opening remarks than Perry had, declared, “Education is who I am.” She said the dropout rate was as great a concern as she had and pointed to the achievement gap, which she said should be called an opportunity gap, as the main cause.

“It’s our responsibility to close that gap for them,” she said.

Describing the superintendent’s job as “make decisions with the big picture in mind,” she said the big picture included the impacts on all the district’s stakeholders. The community, she said, must find ways to unify so that students benefit the most.

The first questioner from the audience asked Prince how she would ensure high standards for kindergartners. Calling the 5-year-olds in her district “amazing,” she said that they needed opportunities to learn and socialize, and that they were ready to have the bar raised for them.

Asked how she could make the transition to a much larger and more diverse district than that of Corvallis, she urged the audience member who asked that to have coffee with her so they could exchange ideas. She described Corvallis as diverse, with changing demographics, and said she was a member of the Oregon Leadership Network, which focuses on students of color.

To a questioner who noted that achievement scores at the benchmark third-grade level were not rising fast, Prince said that effective teachers were the main factor and that she would work at making teachers effective, partly by having mentors for teachers.

Asked about ways of bringing dropouts back to school, she said that although she did not yet know the Salem-Keizer district enough to have all the answers, she would “immediately jump in” and meet with people who have been involved with dropouts. She said such meetings have been effective in Corvallis.

To a question about ethnically disproportionate disciplinary rates, Prince said she would recognize the problem and meet with people from different parts of the community to get them to cooperate on it.

Asked about the high teenage pregnancy rate in northeast Salem, she said she would learn about it as much as she could and meet with people who are involved in the problem.