Where’s the Superintendent?

3:35 pm

I’ve heard from teachers and central office office staff that Superintendent Smith stays behind closed doors and only her “team” is allowed access to her.  The superintendent is invisible to most people.  When the Superintendent appears at public meetings, she’s always reading from a script.  She presents and announces but she doesn’t just talk.

Last night I decided to write Superintendent Smith to share my concerns about the high school redesign.  I discovered that the Superintendent is also difficult to find on the PPS website.  It used to be that you could find the Superintendent’s link attached to many of her statements.  Now, they all link to the Communications office.

Below is my note to the Superintendent and the response that I received from Sarah Carlin Ames (PPS Public Affairs representative) less than an hour after I sent my email:


I’m helping Carole respond to some of her many e-mails.

You are absolutely right that it’s going to take a multi-faceted effort to truly confront our achievement gap. We know that effective teachers, excellent curriculum and support are all critical, along with a structure that better meets student needs.

We need to keep moving on all of these fronts. I am cc’ing Xavier Botana, our chief academic officer, because I know that he agrees. We have not resolved how to meet the needs of English Language Learners to the standards we should, at any level. We are continuing our equity work and engaging in “courageous conversations” about race, and working to change our institutional practices that fail to educate so many of our students and which consign too many students of color to special education and define too many as discipline issues.

The community school program we have described is important, however.  It allows all students better access to challenging courses, IB and AP, no matter where they live — opportunity we have denied many. It commits every community school to offer programs such as AVID, and to offer on-line credit recovery, credit by proficiency and other support to help students keep up and catch up. It increases the counselor services (not enough, but a start) and commits to working with community partners to offer other wrap-around services on-site. We also plan to incorporate lessons (and perhaps staff and programs) from our small schools into our focus school strategy — so that our focus schools truly meet the needs of different learners, and don’t become boutique schools for a self-selected elite.

There is no one silver bullet in closing the achievement gap — but by offering a community comprehensive school with a broad range of challenge and support in every neighborhood, along with well-designed focus schools, should be a positive step forward in a multi-pronged approach.

Sarah Carlin Ames

PPS Public Affairs

>>> “Carrie Adams” 02/10/10 9:39 PM >>>

Dear Superintendent Smith,

Your introduction to the resolution states:

“Let’s look at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson , our largest schools, and the ones that routinely post the highest aggregate test scores. At those four schools together, 70 percent of white students enter 10th grade on track to graduate. But only half as many – 36 percent – of their black students are on track.”

If those schools have the resources that we’re now saying all of our schools should have and yet black students are not doing well in those schools, maybe there’s a different kind of problem.

Has the district identified why black students at those schools are not doing as well as white students? What is the high school redesign team’s plan to address that?

How does the proposed high school system design address the district’s decades long failure to serve ELL students?

What’s in the high school design to address the over-representation of black and hispanic student discipline rates?

What’s in the high school design plan to close the achievement gap?

Carrie Adams

Sarah Carlin Ames deserves credit for her responsiveness and for working 24/7 but as you can see, my questions still haven’t been answered.

So why is the Superintendent being shielded from the public?   Why doesn’t she speak for herself?  Does the board have so little confidence in her ability to lead the district that they allow the Communications department to speak for her?

Note:  I originally published this post with a different title.  After second thoughts, I feel it was a mistake.  The point of the posting remains….the public needs to hear from the Superintendent in her own words.  We’ve heard enough canned public relations speeches to last for years.  Parents are long overdue for some candor, honesty, integrity and sincerity.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

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Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

filed under: Achievement Gap, BESC, Demographics, Discipline, ELL/LEP, Equity, High Schools

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25 Responses

  1. Comment from pps parent/staff:

    I agree, she doesn’t answer her own email, her team is made up of people who have never worked in PPS schools and have no idea what is going on in schools on a daily basis. It is sad that Carole is so out of touch and she is taking pointers from people who are equally out of touch.

  2. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    Touchy subject. Yes she does seem the polar opposite to Vicki (who never met a camera she didn’t like). However, I think with the passing of her partner in the fall there has been a justifiable grace period/grieving period allowed for her. Having not had to go through that type of tragedy myself I can’t begin to speculate on how long you would give someone to get back “to normal” (do you ever?). She is a quiet person but I know that this has to figure into the equation.

  3. Comment from Zarwen:

    Her behavior unfortunately gives credence to the rumors that Hurricane Vicki is still in charge and that Smith herself is just a figurehead.

  4. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Whitebuffalo, I know from experience that the grieving process can take years. I believe that you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.

    The superintendent’s job would be very difficult under normal (if there is such a thing) conditions. These aren’t normal conditions. PPS is headed down a path of no return. I’ve never seen so many PPS stakeholder groups pissed at the same time and no doubt the superintendent is feeling the pressure.

    It’s understandable that the superintendent might not be up to the challenges before her. If she’s not, she should take a leave or resign to take care of herself.

    The reality is that the lives of 42,000 kids are going to be affected by the superintendent’s actions.

  5. Comment from S.Wilcox:

    That’s ok. She doesn’t have to talk. She has Trudy Sargent to do her dirty work. Anyone see the column in the O today? Disgusting!

  6. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    If you are talking about Anna Griffin’s, yes, it was absolutely horrid in terms of research and understanding the issues, and how she formed her opinion, etc. HS journalism kids could do a better job of writing, this is why I gave up long ago on the Oregonian.

    As for Trudy, well, if she doesn’t get a deluge of input on HER comments, I’d be surprised. Face it, with great, deep thinkers liker her, might as well make teaching a form of servitude where you promise to give up your first-born child and ‘they’ put up a dorm for overnight stays in your school building. Oh, and swear allegiance to anything and everything your bosses dictate. One more thing–forever surrender the need to pee or eat during the school day, I mean, teachers certainly don’t need BREAKS!!

    Sorry, ROFLOL!!!! A seriously revolting column by Anna Griffin.

  7. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    One more thing, I’m with you Carrie on the Super resigning or taking an extended leave with a replacement for her.

  8. Comment from S.Wilcox:

    Yes, but didn’t we think we couldn’t get any worse than Vicki Phillips?

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    I believe this is the column in question—that is to say, I hope I got the right link!


  10. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Yup, it’s the article! Does the PPS have a direct line to the Oregonian? Hmmm……

  11. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    No but the PR guy just got a $15K raise this year and he’s been kicking the PAT’s a** ever since.

  12. Comment from Harry Redknapp:

    Where’s the Superintendent?


    Working behind the scenes to get it done, maybe?

  13. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Well, if she’s working behind the scenes, she’s not very effective or expeditious doing that, considering negotiations went almost two years (ok, 1 yr, 9 mos). Letting things sour this far along with chants of “STRIKE” is hardly effective, behind the scenes “leadership”.

    On the other hand, if she’s truly responsible for ending the stalemate, let’s hear from her, not one of her team. Let’s hear words of healing from our mystery gal! Maybe time for her to speak without notes and off the cuff to the public and teachers? Sure would do a lot to restore a bit of faith in her leadership…maybe….

  14. Comment from Zarwen:

    Did anyone (besides me) read Susan Nielsen’s editorial today? I am thinking that Supt. Smith should fire Sarah Allen and Xavier Botana and put Ms. Nielsen in charge. At least then we might see something resembling forward motion!

  15. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    Yup, read it. Right on. I have been on vacation for a few days, but did see on the news about the tentative agreement for a new contract. Did I see it in the O? Nope, on tv. I searched through the newspaper several times. Did I miss it?

  16. Comment from Whitebuffalo:



    But it wasn’t on the front page long. We’ll find out more tomorrow I guess.

  17. Comment from workerBee:

    While Ms. Smiths’ job is difficult she is compensated well for doing it. Part of doing your job is knowing and caring about what is going on in schools and with different stake holder groups. I have found that Carole (Ms. Smith) doesn’t really seem to care. She will not take a stand, do the hard conversations or hold her own staff accountable for their behaviors. There are so many really bad things happening in schools and when reported to Ms. Smith she doesn’t care and shows this by doing nothing about the misdeeds. Even covering them up when she and her “team” are able.

  18. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    I don’t think there’s any need to demonize here. Disagree with her methods, personality or perceived effectiveness (while dealing with personal loss and tragedy) but she’s been here working in the district for 24 years (I think) and she rose from within the ranks (she’s one of us really). I for one wouldn’t wish that job on anybody (or any administrative job).

    Please let’s be civil.

  19. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I agree… I wouldn’t wish that job on anybody, and if what I’m hearing is correct, it sounds like Carole stepped up and broke the log jam on contract talks.

    You could criticize her for taking so long, or you could give her credit for not micro-managing. Sounds to me like there may be some settling in (and out) going on at BESC, which isn’t surprising. Carole’s personal tragedy notwithstanding, we should keep in mind that she is very early in her tenure as superintendent.

  20. Comment from Zarwen:

    Actually, Steve, she is almost 2 years in, and the national average (for urban districts) is only 3 years. (The last PPS supt. to stick around longer than that was Jack Bierwirth, in the early 1990’s.) So, really, most superintendents don’t last beyond the “early” stage.

  21. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    From what I’m hearing there seems to be a power struggle between Carole and the Board (shocking as that might seem). I hear comments like “Carole can’t even take a leak without board approval…” but then I’ve heard the same thing that she was the one that brokered this compromise between the district and PAT. I’m very curious to hear what the real version is–like most things the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  22. Comment from stephanie:

    I think about what the president said in his state of the union that sometimes democracy is noisy. Every single stakeholder in the district is up in arms right now and one interest may negatively impact another and that takes time to leverage. I still plan to push but try to balance that with empathy for her. I could never handle the level of criticism she seems to take with grace. As a stakeholder in special education I feel listened to by Carole and believe she will weed out the lawbreakers and the people that treat our kids and their parents like crap. Having faith doesn’t mean being quiet of course but I do think she gets it. I hope she stays.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I like Carole Smith as a person. She is in a tough spot on two counts. One, the board is in new waters for them in that they are trying to rectify the inequities which their supporters have come down on the other side of for years (at least apathy-wise).

    Two, the prevailing wisdom in education concerning testing and reform trends doesn’t address the main problems with Portland’s schools. Stepping out is easy for us on a blog post, and usually, in my opinion people on this blog are right on. But swimming upstream in public policy against the national trends which make up a good deal of school reform is a whole other matter. Plus, there is the problem that maybe Carole hasn’t figured this out yet. Certainly there is no one on the school board with the experience and sophistication to take on this issue. And most of the people I see in the administration (Zeke Smith, Botana etc.)don’t have a clue that these trends they keep espousing aren’t doing the trick and they need to focus instead on what specifically is going on in each school.

    Maybe they should read the book Sway, to learn more about risk aversion (k-8’s) and committment (focus option schools) and learn to back off their mistakes and instead of tweaking them (I was at the k-8 meeting last night for a while)fix them.

  24. Comment from moonlighting:

    Clarification she hasn’t been in the district more than 8 years. Before that she worked in an alternative private school. Try working in the district and you might see a different side of her. Try getting ahold of her: email or call her. You will never hear back from her. The people she has under her keep her out of any real issues. At some point you have to take a stand and stick by it. Maybe even make people mad but stand for somethhing.

  25. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    You’re right here. I’ve tried repeatedly to meet with her without success. It took me months to get to talk with her Chief of Staff Zeke and that was downgraded from a 30 face-to-face to a 15 minute “phoner”. There are definitely many rows of teeth on this shark.