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Going through the superintendent mid-year evaluation process in recent weeks, the Philomath School Board realized it had a pretty good administrator on its hands while maneuvering through the twists and turns of operating a school district amid a pandemic.

Susan Halliday
Susan Halliday

Susan Halliday, hired in August to serve in an interim role, received high marks in eight performance standards. Meanwhile, the heat intensified on coming up with a strong approach to the effort of getting students back into classrooms.

Those two factors led the School Board to revisit its priorities with the desire to focus on the transition to in-person instruction. The board members also concluded that the right person was already in the superintendent’s seat.

Leading into a motion at Tuesday night’s meeting, School Board member Jim Kildea had this to say:

“Susan’s been our acting superintendent, she’s been our interim superintendent and I guess what I’d like to propose is I think we should just call Susan our superintendent.”

Board member Greg Gerding seconded and the motion passed on a unanimous vote.

Board chair Shelley Niemann said she had discussions with the Oregon School Boards Association consultant that had been hired to lead the superintendent search. Niemann said a number of options existed with one of those being that the final decision on a hire would ultimately be up to the board.

“The thinking behind the suspension of the superintendent search is that we’ve got a really solid superintendent who’s doing great work for us and we should really rethink our search process because at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of challenges that we’re working through and a lot of things we want to see happen for our kids,” Kildea said. “We really just want to focus on the kids.”

Nothing is official just yet with contract negotiations to follow. Halliday would continue under the interim title until the end of the fiscal year and then take over as the permanent superintendent on July 1.

After the conversation had continued for a few minutes, Kildea stopped and asked if Halliday was actually interested in the job.

“First of all, thank you very much for your confidence in me,” she replied. “I appreciate your willingness to work with me as a learner and yes, I would be interested in fulfilling that role.”

Interestingly, Halliday had no initial interest in the superintendent’s job last summer but felt compelled to take a second look when the former interim, Philip “Buzz” Brazeau, announced that he needed to leave on short notice because of health issues.

Halliday has worked in the district for a dozen years, the last five as the Philomath Elementary and Blodgett School principal. Before joining the Philomath team, she worked for 11 years as the school improvement coordinator for the Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District. 

At the School Board’s Jan. 25 meeting, a motion to suspend the superintendent search passed on a 4-1 vote with Anton Grube’s nay based on the belief that a commitment had been made to the community to follow through with the process.

Grube offered a clarification on why he was going to change his vote on Tuesday night.

“For me, that vote last month was about process,” he said. “I feel for me that that process vote has happened and the board has moved forward. This forthcoming vote is not about process, it’s more about a superintendent evaluation and about other items …”

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