After 45 minutes of praise and critics' silence, the long debate leading up to Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long's retirement ended at a special board meeting on Monday.
The school board chose this meeting to accept Long's decision to retire from the district on June 30, 2014, and to hear suggestions from the public for the superintendent search.
The Medford School Board will accept public comment about the superintendent search in a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, in the district Board Room, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.
The board will discuss the search process at its retreat Aug. 21-22.
The next public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16, in which people from the community will have another chance to give suggestions about the search.
There may also be town halls and forums, said Board Chairman Jeff Thomas.
On Monday, four out of seven board members commended Long for his 30 years of work in the district as a teacher, administrator and, for the past eight years, as its superintendent.
Recently re-elected board member Larry Nicholson, who first served on the board when Long was hired, said years of deep funding cuts and other issues made it "an extremely difficult time to be in leadership."
"We learned a lot together," he said, turning toward Long, "and I know you will be able to capitalize on those experiences."
Board member Ron Andersen thanked Long for "taking tough stands in a quiet manner."
He said a superintendent search was nothing to look forward to. "It saddens me to see this happen," he said.
Board member Sally Killen said Long's character was beyond reproach, and Thomas thanked Long for working with the board to find a replacement.
Board member Kim Wallan, who at a June 10 board meeting moved to terminate Long's contract without cause in 90 days, did not comment.
Member Tricia Prendergast arrived minutes before the meeting ended and did not speak. Marlene Yesquen was absent.
Several people attending the meeting spoke about the board's decision in 2010 to exclude students with severe disabilities from having a STEPS classroom at South Medford High's new campus.
At the time, Long said the decision was made to benefit STEPS students because the old South High building, now Central Medford High School, has more space in a smaller high school setting, and is closer to work programs in downtown Medford.
Deb Evans, a board member of the Down Syndrome Association of Southern Oregon, said the superintendent sets the tone and hires key personnel.
It's important, she said, for Long's replacement to have a track record of results with students with differing abilities and skill sets.
Dagoberto Morales spoke as the director of Unete, Center for Farm Worker Advocacy Southern Oregon.
He said he appreciated Long's support and involvement with the Latino Parent Education groups, after-school tutoring and providing space for a support group for parents with special needs children.
"Even though we did not always see eye to eye on every issue or have the same level of urgency, I am grateful for what (Long) did offer to our community," he said.
Morales spoke in Spanish. His words were translated by his son, Nick, 19, who attended Medford schools from kindergarten until graduating from South Medford High in 2012 as a distinguished advance placement scholar.
Morales said he wants to see innovative strategies that help students graduate and teachers hired that reflect the current student population.
"We need to be graduating students that will become taxpayers, not program recipients," he said.
At the beginning of the meeting, when asked if he had any comments, Long said his letter dated Aug. 2 expressed his sentiments, and he repeated that he would be helpful in finding a new superintendent who would be the "right fit."
He then added, "Not a lot of people get to do as many jobs as I have with the same employer."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org