Nominations are open for Democratic
• Saxton names Rich Sipe as temporary chief of staff; mask requirement back for GAPS (July 30, Albany Democrat-Herald)
The Greater Albany Public Schools board voted 4-1 Monday, July 26, to hire Rob Saxton as interim superintendent. The vote came after the board interviewed Saxton, a former state deputy superintendent of public instruction and former South Albany and West Albany coach, teacher and West assistant principal.
Michael Thomson cast the lone dissenting vote. Thomson said that despite the board's rush to hire an interim superintendent before the school year starts, Saxton will only be on the job for one-third of August because of previous personal commitments.
Monday's vote came less than two week after the board voted 4-1 to fire Superintendent Melissa Goff.
• Board hires Saxton (July 26, Albany Democrat-Herald)
• July 26 GAPS special board meeting on YouTube
Picnic & Pie Auction goes virtual:
Event set for 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13, on Zoom
As our tradition goes, we will accept donations of pies to auction off to attendees. Rumor has it there will be awards for best-in-show, best story, and more. All proceeds go to the Linn County Democrats to help us flip Linn County from red to blue.
Join us for some good summer fun!
Please RSVP by Aug. 10 so we know can prepare.
GAPS board's firing of Melissa Goff
did not 'put kids first'
Last night, the Greater Albany School Board fired Superintendent Melissa Goff in a special meeting that lasted under 30 minutes with no public comment and no explanation. Let's be clear, Goff led Albany Public Schools through a global pandemic with ever-changing state and federal mandates and expectations and many blamed her for things out of her control. She also worked hard to ensure that all of Albany's students had the resources and support in place be successful.
Instead of working with the Superintendent and finding common ground, the majority of the board voted to terminate her and fled out of the room.
This is not how government is supposed to work.
What happened last night did not "put kids first" as so many of the new board members campaigned on, but instead was done out of a desire for a cheap political win against the conservatives' new boogyman, Critical Race Theory, a Theory that most people can't even explain or define.
Equity work is important and touches our community in many ways. Whether it's making sure students on IEPs have the support they need, students who speak languages other than English have just as much of an opportunity as their English-speaking peers to be successful, or keeping breakfast and lunch available for families who rely on our schools to provide meals. This work will continue in spite of the new school board.
Jerred Taylor, chair
Linn County Democrats
Let your voice be heard.
Oregon Education Association AFT-Oregon Benton County Democrats Greater Albany Education Association - GAEA NAACP Corvallis/Albany Branch#EquityWorkMatters
Melissa Goff issues statement
following her firing by GAPS board
The Greater Albany Public Schools Board of Directors asked me to not attend tonight’s special session. On the agenda was an item to consider dismissing me from my role as the GAPS superintendent without cause, effective July 24, 2021. Their vote confirmed this proposed action.
When new school boards are elected, they sometimes choose to move in a different direction than the board they replace. This is one of those times. It is why "no cause termination" language is written into superintendent contracts, providing new boards the opportunity to hire a district leader aligned with their approach and beliefs.
Though this Board decision is not what I had hoped for the future of our students, I recognize that the Board is acting within its authority to take this action. When I began as GAPS superintendent in July 2019, it was with a Board who sought an equity leader who could guide the district through strategic planning where all voices were heard. For two years, I had the pleasure of working with a fully supportive Board aligned with my beliefs in how to create a District in which all students and families thrived. I am grateful for the students, families, staff, and community members who have partnered with us in this work.
I believe our new Board has expressed a commitment to the priorities shaped by your voice. I look forward to seeing the progress in equity and inclusion, in student and staff emotional and mental health, and in academic rigor and relevance. As an Albany resident and committed community member, I will be there with you to celebrate these successes in the bright future of Greater Albany Public Schools.
— Melissa Goff
• In Albany, Oregon, a school chief's firing has echoes of national politics (OPB, July 16)
• Albany School Board fires Superintendent Melissa Goff (Albany Democrat-Herald, July 14)
• State Sen. Sara Gelser responds to superintendent's firing (Facebook, July 14)
• Gallery: Division at GAPS board meeting (Albany Democrat-Herald, July 14)
State Sen. Sara responds
to GAPS board firing of Melissa Goff
I sent this letter to the Greater Albany Public School Board today after learning they posted a "special meeting" in order to terminate the superintendent with "no cause." Member Thomsen moved to read this letter at the meeting, but other members refused. Public testimony was also not permitted. The question was called to silence a member who was voicing objection. I've never seen anything like this in local government. It is deeply disappointing.
The full hearing (less than 30 minutes) can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnbZ53fw_Y8
Because this letter was mentioned in the public meeting, I am sharing it here.
July 14, 2021
Chair Aguinaga and Members of the Board,
I learned today that the Board may be considering action to terminate its contract with Superintendent Melissa Goff. I wanted to take a moment to share some observations with you about Superintendent Goff and the experiences I’ve had with her over the last several years as she led two of the three school districts within my Senate District. My perceptions of her performance are informed by my prior experience as Chair of the House Education Committee for 6 years which gave me the opportunity to observe the workings of multiple districts and the style of many Superintendents. It is also informed by my 5 year tenure on the Corvallis School Board, which included one year as Vice Chair.
One of my first interactions with Superintendent Goff was after her arrival in the Philomath School District. She was immediately faced with a painful challenge related to incidents that occurred with the football team. This resulted in a criminal investigation with charges against students and staff, significant division within the community and a large number of students impacted by the events. Superintendent Goff immediately communicated with my office about her concerns and inquired about resources available to the district. She was concerned about the academic success and emotional well being of all impacted parties, including those students whose errors in judgement led to significant consequences. Working together, we were able to obtain funding from the Oregon Health Authority for outreach and prevention efforts to connect students with services and to provide resources to the school community to prevent the most devastating consequences of youth depression. These communications also helped surface some concerns about the use of risk assessments that led to change at the state level to ensure a more fair and measured response to students when they have engaged in criminal or otherwise inappropriate behaviors.
I also worked early on with Superintendent Goff as the state wrestled with increased numbers of children in our schools with significant behavior issues. This was a discussion I had with superintendents in multiple districts across the state. However, Superintendent Goff was the only district leader I was aware of that took immediate action to resolve the issue rather than waiting to see how the state would intervene. She worked to place mental health professionals and behavior specialists in Philomath Schools to better respond to the needs of students and better support educators managing classrooms. The results were clear within the first year. There was a substantial reduction in behavioral referrals and a significant reduction in the use of restraint and seclusion against students.
Superintendent Goff has communicated with me regularly about challenges, needs and opportunities within the districts she leads. She never waits for someone else to tell her what she should say or how she should say it. Instead, she is a vocal advocate for her students and staff and often identifies needs and controversies before other districts see them. She is persistent in her advocacy, and I have learned I can rely on her to be candid and direct even when I might disagree with her perspectives.
In September of 2019, Superintendent Goff reached out to me while I was traveling overseas after an unsettling event that put a local school into lockdown. Not only did she seek to better understand the current policies impacting her options and the response of local agencies, she followed through by working with COSA and OSBA to draft proposed legislation to ensure greater safety for our schools.
Superintendent Goff was also the very first education leader to reach out to me with concerns about distance learning. She texted me on March 30 of 2020 to express her concerns about the impact of distance learning, if mandated by the Governor, on students. She expressed concerns about the impact on student mental health and about lack of connectivity in our schools. I know that she also reached out to other legislators about these concerns. Her proactive work, before other districts starting looking at student impacts, led to a public private partnership to ensure students had connectivity for remote learning. Other districts were further behind. This is not a criticism of those other districts, but rather an example of Superintendent Goff’s determination, forward thinking and willingness to jump in and look for solutions to meet student needs. She is always focused on her students and never waits for someone else to figure out the solution to a problem she is facing.
Of course, distance learning did become necessary and it lasted longer than anyone expected. Despite that, Superintendent Goff remained engaged throughout the process on COVID related issues and issues related to funding, student success and student wellbeing. She was in regular touch with me throughout the late spring and summer as ODE developed the Ready Schools Safe Learners framework. Truthfully, sometimes I hesitated to pick up the phone because I knew she was going to push me—hard—on decisions I didn’t necessarily have control over and in some cases shared perspectives with which I did not necessarily agree. However, she prompted me to ask better questions of ODE, OHA and the Governor’s office about everything from the practicality of distancing requirements to the challenges and conflicts that quarantine policies would bring to the district. While not all of her suggestions were ultimately included in the guidance, her feedback and persistence did contribute to some meaningful changes.
Superintendent Goff also remained focused on equity and connection through the pandemic. She worked to make sure food insecure students were able to access meals, tried to address child care and group activities and pushed hard to start limited in person instruction as quickly as possible for students whose needs could not be met at home. She communicated directly with me about the challenges related to restarting school and the needs her faculty and staff expressed about how to return safely. She didn’t just wait for vaccine to be available for her staff, she actively worked in partnership with Linn County and others to get her staff slotted for vaccine so that GAPS doors could open as quickly as possible.
I personally believe that the restrictions imposed by the Governor last fall and through the winter saved countless Oregon lives. I also know not everyone agrees with me and that those restrictions were controversial. Unfortunately, local education leaders like Superintendent Goff became the face of those restrictions.
Like many local leaders, I believe Superintendent Goff became a scapegoat for many of the difficulties associated with weathering a global pandemic. Enforcement of masking requirements, closure requirements, and quarantine requirements were not policy decisions she had the authority to make. She was obligated to follow state requirements and also obligated to consider the implications for public health across the entire community and liability to the school district. I don’t deny that this was an incredibly difficult year for everyone. But Superintendent Goff did not cause the pandemic. Instead, she consistently worked to address the challenges it brought in the most inclusive, equitable and student centered way possible. She also worked consistently to get kids into the most appropriate learning environments as quickly and safely as possible.
Superintendent Goff has also been criticized for her bold and dogged efforts to address historic inequities. She is one of few leaders in our state to take step into that uncomfortable space of actually challenging racial inequality. It is one thing to talk about diversity and celebrate historic civil rights leaders. It is another thing entirely to speak openly against racist actions, enact policies that reflect listening to the voices of Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color, and not quit anti-racist initiatives just because it is difficult or uncomfortable or unpopular. Superintendent Goff has also worked to address issues related to economic disparity, improve access to education opportunities, and reduce bullying of students of color and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Regardless of how such efforts are perceived by different segments of the community, the outcome is undeniable. When youth feel safe at school, when parents feel safe to engage and when students are supported to overcome historic barriers to opportunity they succeed.
I know we ALL share a commitment to increased graduation rates and greater student success. I also know that the opportunity gap is greatest for students coming from BIPOC communities, students with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ students, English Language Learners, kids in the child welfare system, low income youth and youth who face housing or food insecurity. In Superintendent Goff, the Greater Albany Public School System has a leader that is successfully addressing the needs of these populations so they can enjoy the benefits of academic success and opportunity. That is what it takes to improve graduation rates, test scores and every other statistical measure of school district success. Without a focus on these populations, it is mathematically impossible to make meaningful progress in these areas.
I understand that the agenda item regarding the Superintendent tonight likely indicates the Board’s intention to terminate her employment contract. If that is the case, I implore the Board to reconsider. Usually, in the absence of an egregious offense, such personnel changes are not made without some transition time or a succession plan. If the Superintendent is terminated tonight, who will be leading the district tomorrow?
What our communities need now is certainty and a positive, comprehensive plan to move into the fall and back to normalcy. While some in the community will certainly celebrate and support the termination of the superintendent, it will cause others to recoil. These polarized responses are certain to increase community conflict and debate. Further, I am concerned that the optics of a brand new, all male board voting on the no-cause termination of a female leader at their third business meeting without any community process, formal performance review or opportunity for a plan of improvement is likely to create distrust and further conflict. This is especially true given the recent issues related to the founded complaints made by the Superintendent against a school board member. I worry an action of termination without cause could open the door to protracted litigation related to retaliatory termination.
I am also concerned about the chilling effect this could have on the school district faculty and staff. Will they feel they are working in a district that supports school district personnel? Will they feel there is grace for error and opportunity for improvement when errors are made or disagreements are revealed? Will they feel those who make reports of harassment will be retaliated against? Will principals and other leaders fear that if they work to combat racism or elevate the voices of children and parents of color within their schools they will face condemnation or termination from elected leaders? Will the district be compromised in its ability to recruit a high quality interim superintendent if the GAPS Board terminates a superintendent without cause and with little notice months before the next scheduled performance review?
How will the conflict, uncertainty and chaos caused by such a drastic and dramatic action impact the ability for the district leadership team and teachers to make necessary preparations for the return to full time, in person learning this fall? How much energy that should be focused on students will be spent working to recruit a new district leader and quelling the conflict that will brew throughout the district? And, if the Board terminates without cause, how many teaching positions could be funded with the funds used for either buying out a contract or paying for protracted legal fees and potential settlements?
I respect your care and concern for the students and this district and I appreciate that there is a vocal segment of the community that would strongly support an action to change district leadership. That said, I hope you will reconsider taking such a drastic action this evening. Instead, I hope the Board will seize this opportunity to demonstrate how those with divergent views can come together after a crisis and collaborate for the benefit of all students and the community. That would be an extraordinary demonstration of leadership. I know this is within the capacity of all of the involved parties to accomplish.
Thank you for considering these observations and concerns. I implore you-- for the sake of the stability of the district, the morale of district staff and a successful return to full time in person learning this fall-- to delay any action on the Superintendent’s contract until there has been an opportunity to address the concerns the Board has about her leadership and establish a clear plan for the future.
Senator Sara Gelser Blouin
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