Rudy Crew, the former head of schools in New York City, Miami, Sacramento and Tacoma, is Gov. John Kitzhaber's choice to become Oregon's first "chief education officer."
Rudy Crew / Thomas Boyd, The OregonianThat position would give Crew unprecedented power over the state's public universities, public schools, community colleges and early childhood programs. If a state panel awards him the job Thursday, as expected, his assignment will be to lead the effort to knit and reshape them into a more innovative, effective and seamless system.
The governor wants him to find a way to get far more students to graduate from high school and to earn college credentials -- without spending a whole lot more money to make it happen.
Crew, now 61 and an education professor at the University of Southern California, is best known for his time in the crucible of the nation's largest school district, with 1 million students and high-profile political pressure, including from the mayor and the teacher's union. He is credited with innovations that improved results at the city's worst schools -- over which he sought and won more direct control -- and for raising curriculum standards across the district.
But he also has changed jobs and cities frequently during his 40 years in education, leaving many posts after just two years. His longest stint was in Sacramento, where he was assistant superintendent and then superintendent for a total of six years.
He was ousted from the New York job after five years for clashing with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the Miami-Dade County school board fired him after four years over conflicts about money and other matters.
Crew, who is African American, will accept a leadership role in a city and state that have lost or forced out other African American leaders, including former school superintendent Ben Canada, former Columbia-Willamette United Way president Brent Stewart, former Willamette University president Lee Pelton and former Portland State University president Dan Bernstine. African Americans make up about 2 percent of the state's population.
Nike executive Julia Brim-Edwards, who led the team that screened all 50 applicants for the Oregon job, said the screening committee felt Crew best met the five key job criteria and would work toward bold solutions, not incremental change.
Kitzhaber called him "a real talent" with a reputation for innovation and improving performance.
Crew was unapologetic about crusading for big changes in New York and Miami that he said got him ousted for "ruffling feathers" on behalf of children. In Oregon, he said, "I can try to be far more diplomatic ... but this is about the way it should be for these children. ... I am what I am."
Crew said he will count on Kitzhaber and his overarching Oregon Education Investment Board to maintain political support for the tough changes he will recommend that "will not necessarily be popular."
That board will vote Thursday morning whether to hire Crew. The job pays about $280,000.
Crew said he needs to learn more about Oregon and its education system before recommending specific changes, but he said one will be to equip students and parents with more information about their options, starting with preschool.
He said every student must be given specific, step-by-step information about how to get from high school into a college, community college or work preparation program that works for them.
He also said he will give schools with chronic poor achievement more research-based prescriptions, and less time, "to get it right," particularly when it comes to teaching children to read.
In seeking the right person for the job, Brim-Edwards said, the panel looked for an educator with proven leadership skills that yielded results, a demonstrated ability to pull off major systems change, expertise in both public schools and higher education and excellent communications skills.
-- Betsy Hammond