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Brent Barry named Oregon Superintendent of the Year

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Phoenix-Talent School District Superintendent Brent Barry was named Oregon Superintendent of the Year

Owing to the school district’s outreach after the Almeda fire and a rapid deployment of online resources for affected students and staff after the fire, Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Brent Barry has been named Oregon Superintendent of the Year.

The Oregon Association of School Executives surprised Barry with the honor Monday morning during a Zoom meeting with other school district leaders across the state, according to Barry and Phoenix-Talent School District spokesman Joe Zavala.

Barry said he had an inkling something was up when he saw his staff huddled in the middle of the teleconference he was on with other school administrators. His staff were bringing in Barry’s family so they could be there his big moment.

“I knew something was a little fishy in that moment,” Barry said reflecting on the surprise. “I’m just really honored to share this with the whole district, to be honest,” Barry said.

The honor puts Barry in the running for the national superintendent of the year award issued by the American Association of School Administrators, according to a news release issued by the OASE and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators.

The two organizations picked Barry for the honor because of the “exceptional” way the district navigated numerous challenges for its 2,375 students following the fire that demolished large parts of Phoenix and Talent and took out roughly a third of student and staff homes, according to OASE President Tim Sweeney, who is the Coquille School District superintendent.

“The exceptional way Brent dealt with the ongoing COVID pandemic made him an outstanding candidate for superintendent of the year, but it was his incredible leadership during one of the most terrifying events in the history of the state, the Almeda fire, that showed Brent’s true strength of character,” Sweeney said in the press release.

The fire rendered many school buildings inaccessible for weeks and left numerous other staff and students without internet access because the fire destroyed electrical and fiber optic lines in the center of town along South Pacific Highway.

“Just hours after Sept. 8, our role really changed to crisis management,” Barry said. “We needed to make sure our kids and families were safe.”

Barry’s staff contacted every family in the school district within one week of the fire to get a bead on where the families were located and how they were faring after the massively destructive fire.

“They were spread out all over our area, the state, the West Coast,” Barry said.

Making sure those students didn’t fall through the cracks while families were in crisis was Barry’s staff “going out in the community.”

Some families lost smart phones and computers in the fire, so the school district set up wireless routers in local motels and RV parks, created tutoring centers and connectivity stations throughout the Rogue Valley, and distributed Wi-Fi hotspot devices and Chromebooks to displaced families and staff members who needed them.

Two weeks after the fire, the school district’s online classes resumed. Barry praised help from other Southern Oregon school districts who made space to for Phoenix-Talent educators and administrators to “set up camp and really provide for our kids” after the fire.

The school district has also raised about $2 million for families affected by the fires.

Barry praised the overwhelming success of Southern Oregon business’ fundraising campaigns for getting the ball rolling.

“Resources from Rogue Credit Union, Dutch Bros. really just set us up for success right off the bat to help support our families,” Barry said.

Barry is a South Medford High School, Southern Oregon University and Linfield University grad who taught health and math classes before becoming Phoenix High School’s vice principal, Orchard Hill Elementary’s principal and assistant superintendent at Phoenix-Talent. He has been Phoenix-Talent superintendent since 2017.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.