In practically the same breath, Oregon is saying goodbye to State Superintendent Susan Castillo and welcoming a new education czar. Castillo was the last state-elected education leader, and her departure clears the path to implement Gov. John Kitzhaber’s K-12 educational reforms.

Kitzhaber has appointed Rudy Crew, 61, the former head of schools in New York City, Miami, Sacramento and Tacoma, to handle the challenge. His new job comes with expanded power over Oregon’s public universities, public schools, community colleges and early childhood programs.

Kitzhaber’s vision, when he sold the new organization to the state legislature, was to create a better system for educating Oregon students by encouraging or even forcing all elements of the public education community to work together.

Kitzhaber wants to reform and change the system, starting with gaining direct power and responsibility for public education. Crew will report to him, as do other department heads.

Crew’s efforts will be measured over the years by how he meets the governor’s goal, approved by the Legislature, of having 100 percent of students graduate from high school and 80 percent earn a college degree or advanced education. Currently about 75 percent graduate from high school with less than half earning a college diploma or associate degree.

Crew’s background in the battlegrounds of some of the nation’s largest, and most troubled, school districts suggests he has a strong foundation for facing the challenge implicit in that task.

In rural Oregon, however, his performance will be measured on another scale as well – one that measures how he relates to and works with the specific issues of small, remote schools. His resume suggests little connection with rural communities – it fairly screams “urban” at every turn. That suggests we rural folks may have some schooling to do at the state level, if we are to make the case for rural schools.

The appointment of Crew comes as folks here in Grant County have formed a task force to tackle survival issues for our five school districts. Perhaps we should also send out an invitation to the new education boss to visit us here on the frontier and get an upclose look at the problems and issues of rural schools. It could be important to let him know that while small, these parts of his new realm are significant for kids and communities – and for Oregon.

We urge the governor to help Crew unpack his bags and find a good state map. There’s a big chunk of Oregon waiting for his attention – east of the Cascades.

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