New superintendent enters with optimism


Jamie Bikales

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero speaks during a press conference at PPS Headquarters on Dec 14. Guerrero took over the district’s top position in October.

PPS superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero is here to make big changes. When asked about his opinions on the future of PPS, he replies with the knowledge of an insider and optimistic sports metaphors. Appointed in October, Guerrero is already laying out plans to create a better school system in Portland.

“We are not a perfect organization,” he admitted early in a press conference with PPS student journalists on Dec. 14. When Guerrero came to Portland from his previous post as deputy superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, he inherited problems like the lead water crisis, ongoing reconstruction of schools, and a large graduation gap between PPS high schools.

Guerrero, 47, graduated from UCLA and Harvard Graduate School of Education. He worked as a teacher and administrator in Boston Public Schools before moving to San Francisco.

While Lincoln had a graduation rate of 94 percent in 2016, Roosevelt had a graduation rate of only 64 percent. Guerrero said this is unacceptable. “No matter where you attend high school, you should have equal opportunities to be supported and be successful,” said Guerrero.

He has noticed a trend in many schools with large dropout rates. “If you look at kindergarten readiness you will probably notice the exact same high school gap there.” He believes that all students must master the fundamentals early in school so they can advance to become a high school graduate.

He also commented on the lack of classes PPS students take senior year, saying, “I’m finding a phenomenon here in Portland schools that you have a pretty full freshman year, but by senior year, kids don’t have a full course load.”

Guerrero has already begun working on a solution. “Something that has been successful in my other districts were an array of credit-earning opportunities so kids can stay on track,” he explained. He believes that giving kids who are unlikely to graduate more extracurricular opportunities to gain class credit will help their chances of graduating.

One of the biggest tasks at hand for Guerrero is aiding in the reconstruction of PPS schools. He’s aware of the scrutiny that he’s under as the new superintendent, “There are real constraints because we have to give confidence to the public that we’re being very prudent stewards of public dollars,” he said.

Alongside assuring the public of his good intentions, Guerrero and his team must also ensure that all buildings are safe in the event of a natural disaster. “One thing that’s still a concern here is earthquakes,” he mentioned. “As we are renovating and using our bond money, part of that [is used for] shoring up the infrastructure… so we can be as safe as possible when an earthquake hits.”

With the limited funds he has to complete various projects, Guerrero has some unique ideas on how the new schools could be structured. “There are a lot of places doing super creative school design that encourage student interaction and presentation” he said.

As a new hire, he has also made it a priority to surround himself with a team that will be successful.

“Coming in as a new manager you want to recruit the best possible team to have a winning season for once, and build those fundamentals so you can get to the playoffs” he said, translating his situation into sports terminology. Guerrero has hired a deputy superintendent, Yvonne Curtis, from Forest Grove School District, and is looking for other people to hire. “I need a team that’s going to get us to the playoffs,” he says.

He hopes the new members of his team can help him surpass some of the district’s past issues, such as lack of transparency.

Guerrero believes that needs to change. “This isn’t the CIA,” he says. “We want to make sure folks have the best information we can offer.”

Dave Northfield, the Director of Communications for PPS, says, “We have a commitment to doing the public’s business in public.” He mentions, however, that “there are some rules that govern what’s accessible, such as things that relate to [people’s] personal files.”

Although he was thrown into this tough position, Guerrero has lots of past experience in San Francisco and has a positive outlook. “I’m trying to make the best meal I can make with the limited ingredients in front of me” he said, using another metaphor to close out the press conference.