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New to Portland, but new superintendent knows Parkrose


For a newcomer, Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray is an anomaly. She knows more about Parkrose, and its schools, than she does about Portland.

New Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Gray has responsibility for one middle, one high and four elementary schools, serving approximately 3,500 students.

Gray was hired in March to replace Michael Taylor, who had retired after eight years. Gray was born in New York City, moved to Southern California as a child, received her Bachelor of Arts and master’s degrees from California State University at Fuller did postgraduate work at the University of Oregon. She began her teaching career as a special education teacher and speech pathologist in Fullerton and then worked for 17 years in the Coos Bay School District, ending as superintendent.

“I’m quite unfamiliar with Portland,” Gray said, “but my son (Joshua Gray) lives in Parkrose, and my grandchildren attend school here in the district.” She had done consulting work for the district, “trying to provide instructional strategies for students, that is, tools for learning how to learn. [District officials] completely changed their strategic plan. They were quite thoughtful, and I quite liked that about them. They were just so passionate and committed to the schools and their children.”

Further, she said, “Parkrose is like a city, not just a suburb, and has a city feeling.” And (we swear we didn’t put her up to this), “The Mid-county Memo is so local. ‘Here’s what’s happening where you live.’ I showed it to my son, and we read it together.”

Gray had become somewhat restless in her job in Coos Bay. “I realized I didn’t want to stay in Coos Bay forever, and I started to think about where else I might go,” she said. “Then someone on the [Parkrose School District] search committee asked me, ‘Did you know the superintendent’s position is open here?’”

Now that she has the job, what does she want to do with it? What are her priorities? “I want to continue to work with the staff on professional learning communities, that is, how people meet to work,” she said. “At the high school, we need to expand the community connections. We have career academies, and they should be connected to local businesses and the community college.”

Asked about challenges she may have to overcome, Gray held the cards a little closer. “People are used to doing things the way they do them,” she said. “I want people to see things from a little different perspective. I’m a little more assertive than some people, and I’m pretty focused on what I think is right, but I’m also collaborative. I’m willing to listen, but at some point you decide and get to work.”

Asked about finances she said, “I’m still learning the budget,” but added, “There are always financial challenges. At Coos Bay there wasn’t a year when we weren’t cutting the budget. Yet we continued to provide services.” She suggested seeking efficiencies in technology and energy costs, “and what you save you can use to fix things. Talk to me again in a few months.”

About safety issues, Gray said, “We’re working with East Precinct. They have a School Resource Officer who’s assigned full time to student safety, and they didn’t have that in Coos Bay. I’m working with Ron Hitchcock, the new superintendent of the Metropolitan Education Service District. We’re continuing to work on the Safer Routes to School programs at Shaver, Prescott and Sacramento elementary schools, and I just signed a Memorandum of Understanding about this with the city. I have a terrific staff here, just the nicest people on earth, and that’s huge for a new superintendent.”

Of course things didn’t always run so smoothly at the Parkrose School District. Gray has heard the stories.

“We’ve gotten away from all that,” she said. “This is a whole new board. The longest-serving member has been here six years.”

And now, a new superintendent. Welcome, Karen.
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