David Douglas School District superintendent, Don Grotting, has been named Oregon Superintendent of the Year by the Oregon Association of School Executives and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA). He is a 1996 graduate of the Master’s in Educational Leadership program.
Superintendent of the Year finalists are selected for the following criteria: leadership for learning, communication, professionalism, and community involvement. The award is a remarkable accomplishment for a relatively new superintendent, whose career is a study in contrasts, taking him to opposite ends of the state and from school districts vastly different in size and makeup.
Don Grotting grew up in Coquille, a tiny logging community in the Blue Mountains of southwestern Oregon. He graduated from Coquille High School and joined the military, serving in Germany. Upon returning home, he did what most people in Coquille did: he worked at the mill and started a family. Thirteen years later, like so many other lumber mills around Oregon, the Georgia-Pacific plywood plant closed. At age 33, he needed to figure out what to do next.
He enrolled at Linfield College earned a degree, and became a teacher in Powers, Oregon near his hometown. After two years, he became superintendent of the Powers School District, which includes two schools. His next job was in Nyssa, near Ontario, Oregon on the extreme opposite side of the state. Nyssa has three schools. Mr. Grotting had a huge impact on student achievement in Nyssa, where 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Maybe it was because he had grown up poor and understood the challenges or maybe he didn’t want poverty to be used as an excuse, but he dug in and successfully led Nyssa in curriculum changes that dramatically improved student outcomes. In 2005, Nyssa earned state-wide recognition and was designated by the Oregon Department of Education as the first recipient of the “Closing the Achievement Gap Award.”
Mr. Grotting put Nyssa in the spotlight, and in 2010, he was selected by David Douglas School District, the 15th largest district in the state, to serve as superintendent. While the size and composition of the east Portland district was vastly different than his previous districts, David Douglas had some familiar challenges. Its 10,703 students have a high percentage of low income students (80 percent of DDSD students qualify for free or reduced-price meals) and many students are English Language Learners, (more than 70 languages are spoken in homes). Some would call these characteristics major obstacles, but here Don Grotting saw opportunity.
It was the first time in the history of David Douglas that a superintendent was chosen from outside the current district staff. School board member Freida Christopher explains why he was their top choice: “Although Don has numerous talents in various areas of running a diverse school district such as ours, his greatest strength and passion is in improving student achievement. As an educational leader, there is no one better. In the short three years he has been at David Douglas, we have seen pronounced gains in our efforts to close the achievement gap. He understands what needs to be done and holds all staff accountable to making sure each child gets the best education possible.”
Under Don Grotting’s leadership, innovative programs emerged to serve the needs of students. David Douglas is one of the first districts in the state to address the needs of preschool children. The Earl Boyles Early Learning Project added a free public preschool to that elementary building (under the direction of PSU alumna, Ericka Guynes.) Mr. Grotting worked to change the district’s ELL program to include all K-5 students, rather than working with individual students in isolated classrooms. The result improved English skills for everyone. With Curriculum Director Brooke O’Neill, he introduced professional learning teams to all 13 schools to increase student achievement by looking at proficiency-based reporting. This required the district to implement a late start every Wednesday—a tough sell with parents. He got the full support of the school board and student achievement results have been dramatic.
Mr. Grotting will be honored at various events around Oregon, including the annual Oregon School Boards Association Convention, November 16, and at the annual COSA Conference in Seaside, June 18-20, 2014. He is also eligible for national honors, which will be announced at the 2014 American Association of School Administrators National Conference on Education in Nashville, Tennessee, in February 2014.
Mr. Grotting is the fourth PSU alumnus to be named Oregon Superintendent of the Year in the last five years. He follows Maryalice Russell, 2013, Ron Wilkinson, 2012, and Paula Radich, 2010.
“As educators, parents, administrators, and board members, our job is to believe that every child has an unlimited capacity to learn and be successful. While we may try to justify our failures due to the process and measurement tools used to rate our schools, we have no right to justify why any child in any of our schools and districts is failing. There should be no excuses.”
—Don Grotting, Nyssa, 2005