Public meets LGSD finalists

By Dick Mason, The La Grande Observer, @lgoMason

Community members may have met the La Grande School District’s future
superintendent Monday.

The five finalists for the school district’s superintendent position met with the public at La Grande High School as part of a five-hour session where they also were interviewed by the school board, plus school district staff and administrators, in sessions closed to the public.

The five finalists were selected from 22 applications the school district received. The district is seeking a successor for Larry Glaze, who will retire at the end of June. Glaze is completing his ninth year as La Grande superintendent and 43rd as an

educator.

The candidates provided the public with their perspectives about the future of education, their educational philosophies and sometimes moving accounts about their lives and educational
experiences.

George Mendoza, assistant superintendent of the Morrow County School District, spoke of the difficulties he faced while working at an elementary school comprised primarily of Latino students from low-income families. He noted that students there faced unfair academic challenges.

“They were taught in Spanish but they took their tests in English,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza can empathize with the challenges faced by these students because he grew up in a low-income Hispanic family.

“I thought I was an
American citizen until my father was deported,”
Mendoza said.

Mendoza later enrolled at Eastern Oregon University where he blossomed, and graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in multidisciplinary studies and a minor in elementary education and physical
education.

“They took an interest in me at EOU. My life took off,” he said.

Mendoza is completing his 20th year as an educator and is a member of the EOU Board of Trustees. He strives to make sure no students are overlooked.

“I believe in equity. We need to apply that to education,” he said.

Perhaps the most familiar face among the finalists was Brett Baxter, who is completing his third year as La Grande High School principal. Baxter has been an educator for 14 years, first working as a language arts teacher from 2003 to 2011, before serving as the school’s assistant principal for two years and then as principal of Greenwood Elementary School for one year.

“I love learning. That is what life’s all about,” Baxter said.

The educator said that as a leader, he tries to get others to work together.

“I value the team approach. I don’t want the spotlight,” Baxter said.

He strives to build leadership skills in those working under him.

“I like empowering them to share their expertise,” Baxter said. “I want to build leadership capacity in others.”

He said that the La Grande School District is close to his heart.

“I have invested a lot of years here. I want what is very best for the school district,” Baxter said.

Another finalist with strong ties to the area is Bret Uptmor, the superintendent of the Wallowa School District. In Wallowa, Uptmor has strived to develop its career technical education program, something tied to his educational roots as an automotive technology teacher earlier at Ontario High School.

“It is a passion of mine. I can’t go back to Ontario without meeting people that tell me (the classes I taught) changed their lives,” said Uptmor, who has been the superintendent in Wallowa since 2011.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer

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