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Brown outlines role for graduation czar

 PORTLAND — Gov. Kate Brown wants her new "education innovation officer" to infuse Oregon schools with the expertise, support and drive they need to raise the state's woeful high school graduation rate.

That person, who has yet to be hired, will have the backing of the governor and the two key education agencies she oversees, the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office.

But the graduation czar won't manage any staffers, won't have money to hand out and is expected to listen to Oregon school districts and communities, not order them around.

The governor's staff disclosed those details to The Oregonian/OregonLive on Thursday, fulfilling a month-old request for the new officer's job description. Brown announced in early December that she planned to add the position to her executive staff.

Just 72 percent of students in Oregon's class of 2014 earned a diploma in four years. That was the fourth-worst rate in the nation and represented no improvement from the previous year.

The state is scheduled to announce the new rate, for the class of 2015, on Thursday.

Brown has acknowledged the state's goal of getting 100 percent of students to graduate from high school or earn a GED by 2025 is far out of reach with less than 10 years to go. She expects the education innovation officer will help speed improvement toward that goal, set by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Legislature in 2011.

Brown's office listed these main duties for her graduation czar:

—Finding the barriers that keep schools from graduating students — and looking for patterns affecting certain groups of students, including males, rural residents, blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, students with disabilities and students for whom English is a second language.

  • — Assemble the best findings from research, experts and groups with a track record of success.
  • — Get school districts and communities to see what strategies work and to use them.
  • — Recommend new state policies and ways of allocating money to raise graduation rates, particularly among students of color, who have the lowest success rates and represent a growing proportion of the state's population.

The governor's spokeswoman, Melissa Navas, said Brown aims to have the innovation officer in place sometime this spring. The salary range has not been determined, Navas said.

The top 30 employees on Kitzhaber's staff were paid an average of about $110,000.

One item sure to be on the new officer's plate: Finding ways to decrease the chronic absenteeism that is the hallmark of so many Oregon schools, starting in kindergarten.

Oregon has been shown to have one of the nation's highest rates of students missing 10 percent of the school year or more. And so far it's not getting better, even after The Oregonian/OregonLive brought the issue to public attention in early 2014.

What won't be on the innovation officer's plate: Figuring out how to train teachers to improve their teaching. The governor announced Wednesday she will be appointing a panel of 15 people, six of them teachers, to help with that task. Lindsey Capps, Brown's acting chief education officer, says the panel will figure out how Oregon should manage its on-the-job training for teachers to help them improve their teaching techniques and other professional practices.

Kitzhaber was the first Oregon governor to put a top education leader on his own staff, rather than at the state education department or higher education agency. He hired Rudy Crew, the former head of New York City and Miami-Dade school districts, to be his chief education officer.

Crew lost credibility before quitting to take a New York college presidency. Kitzhaber then appointed former Springfield superintendent Nancy Golden to the role.

Following Kitzhaber's resignation, the 2015 Legislature dialed back the role of the chief education officer, and Golden retired. Brown named Capps, who was then her education adviser and formerly a teachers union leader, to fill the role on an interim basis.

Capps has been in the role for more than 10 months, and Brown has not made a move to find a permanent replacement.

"The governor's office is considering next steps," Navas said.