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Phoenix-Talent superintendent retires

The Phoenix-Talent School District will join the nearby districts of Ashland and Central Point in a search for a new leader, following the retirement of longtime superintendent Ben Bergreen.

Bergreen, 64, who became superintendent in 2001, quietly announced his retirement over the summer, a move that reflects his style as district leader, School Board chairman Craig Prewitt said.

"Ben's style is a positive, thoughtful, low-key approach to leadership," said Prewitt.

Bergreen will continue to work this school year on an interim basis. That will give the district a chance to find a new superintendent, and ideally have the two leaders overlap for a few months later in the school year, Prewitt said.

A career educator, Bergreen was a teacher at Phoenix High School, district special education director and a five-year School Board member before becoming interim superintendent in the fall of 2001.

When the board realized Bergreen was qualified to remain in the position, he formally took leadership that December.

Though nationwide statistics say most schools superintendents stay in their posts for fewer than six years, both Bergreen and his predecessor, Dave Willard, stayed at Phoenix-Talent for 12 years.

Like most Oregon superintendents, Bergreen managed his district as school funding was repeatedly cut, often weighing difficult cuts and ultimately laying off dozens of employees in 2009 to balance the budget.

More recently, Bergreen and the School Board spearheaded a failed attempt to rename the district, trying to come up with a more compelling name after learning they would lose about 50 students to Ashland with the state's new open enrollment policy.

When the public protested the name change, the district reversed its plans earlier this year — an experience that ultimately showed the value the community places in its schools, administrators said.

Prewitt said the board hopes to find a new superintendent with similar qualities to Bergreen, and would consider promoting from within. "We hope to find someone who is like Ben, and is focused on student achievement," said Prewitt.

The board wasn't surprised to learn of Bergreen's retirement; it was something that had been discussed for a while, said Prewitt.

"Ben has been a rock, a foundation we've built a lot on," said Prewitt. "We're sad to see him go. He's done a wonderful job."

Bergreen did not return a phone call asking for comment.

The district is attempting to conduct its own superintendent search rather than hire an Oregon School Boards Association consultant, as Ashland and Central Point have done.

Both of those districts have begun searching for candidates nationwide, and hope to have replacements selected by the time their superintendents formally retire on June 30, 2013.

Prewitt said the district would save money by handling the hiring on its own. If the search is not successful, the district may consider hiring a consultant later.

"We think we'll get some very good candidates," said Prewitt.

An application posted on the district website states interviews for the position are scheduled to begin in November, with the district hoping to choose a new superintendent by January.