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Superintendent pick learned the hard way

Central Point School District's next superintendent says that her decision to leave high school early 20 years ago has helped her understand the importance of successful public education.

"I was a kid that wasn't challenged in school," said Samantha Steele, the district's director of education.

The district announced last week that Steele, 46, would follow Randy Gravon as the district's next superintendent, transitioning into the position before he retires next June.

Steele, who grew up on a ranch in eastern Oregon, left high school after only three years to attend college without having earned a diploma or a GED.

"I went to the only school that would accept me," said Steele, who majored in English at Southern Oregon State College.

"I was too young to be away from home," said Steele. "I was academically prepared, but not emotionally ready."

Steele said that it was her own experience with public education that has prepared her to become a superintendent.

"We have to help those that are struggling, and those that aren't being challenged," said Steele.

After majoring in English and education and earning a master's degree in education, Steele was a teacher, academic advisor and high school vice principal in the Eagle Point School District. She came to Central Point as Crater High School's vice principal 10 years ago.

In 2005, she became the district's director of education, a position that has Steele overseeing instruction across the district.

"There's nothing more important than what's happening in the classroom," said Steele. "We always look for the best possible practices."

The toughest challenges ahead will be a difficult time balancing the budget and dealing with deteriorating buildings across the district, Steele said.

Steele will begin working more closely with Gravon around January, with the hope of providing a seamless transition between the two leaders, according to School Board Chairwoman Jolee Wallace.

The board contracted with the Oregon School Boards Association to conduct a search for a superintendent, and a consultant held numerous meetings with staff and the community to gauge what qualities were most important for someone in the position.

From there, the board chose to first accept applications from current employees before opening the search up regionally or nationwide.

Wallace said that being an internal applicant can be more challenging than an outside applicant, because your strengths and weaknesses are already known during the interview process.

"They have to prove themselves twice as hard," said Wallace.

Wallace said it was a relief that a qualified candidate was found internally, and was pleased with Steele's strong educational background.

Last year, Steele taught continuing licensure classes for educators through Portland State University.

She is also the president of the Oregon Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an advocacy campaign that encourages partnerships between schools and community organizations in order to improve classroom curriculum.

At a board meeting to announce Steele's appointment last week, Wallace said, all the district's administrators attended to show their support for her.

"She has a lot of people behind her," said Wallace. "We're extremely happy."

Wallace said the details of Steele's contract have yet to be determined, but she will officially become superintendent July 1.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.