By Racheal Winter • Features Editor • 

Superintendent interviewed in Washington D.C.

One of four finalists for the national honor, she had enough time to meet her fellow finalists, undergo interviews and take part in a press conference, she said. But there was not enough time to describe all the beneficial things local educators are doing and all the successes they are enjoying in her district. 

“What I really wanted to do was tell them about the substantive things we’re doing with teaching and learning, how we’re highly focused on that,” Russell said.

Discussing that, she said, “would be a piece of cake, if I had all day.”

Russell, who took over in McMinnville in 2002, was named Oregon superintendent of the year in October. She was named a finalist for national honors in January by the American Association of School Administrators.

The other national finalists are Wanda Cook-Robinson of Southfield, Mich., where her district works alongside the auto industry to shape programs for K-12; Mark Edwards of North Carolina’s Mooresville Grade School District, where schools are equipping every student with iPads to improve learning; and C.J. Huff of Joplin, Mo., where both the city and the school district are rebuilding after a devastating tornado.

The winner will be announced Feb. 21 at the AASA’s national conference on education in Los Angeles.

All four finalists sat together for a joint press conference at the National Press Club. In addition to answering questions about themselves and their states and districts, they spoke issues such as school safety.

“It was nice to hear their insights and experiences,” Russell said.

Individually, each finalist was interviewed by an AASA panel. Russell said she was asked about the federal Race to the Top program and issues facing education in general.

The panel also asked her to address problems on which her district is working.

“Problems? We’re all about solutions,” she recalled thinking.

So she discussed some of the things McMinnville schools are doing to improve student learning, such as college preparedness and courses in which high school students can earn college credit, thereby getting an early start on higher education. “We’re thinking in terms of solutions and opportunities,” she said.

If she had had more time, she said, she would have liked to have elaborated on the ways McMinnville teachers understand and use effective teaching strategies, and how they use data to modify their teaching. She would have spoken about the systemic changes the district has made over the years; not just a few people here and there, but everyone, understands the goals and works toward them.

“We’re making great gains on creating seamless opportunities for sharing information,” she said. “We’re creating as many opportunities as possible for people to come together, learning together, and we’re each benefiting from our colleagues’ strengths.

In naming Russell one of its four finalists, AASA noted the district’s many successes in recent year.

In particular, AASA officials focused on McMinnville’s comprehensive approach to science, technology, engineering and math education; its consistent gains in student achievement significantly above the state average; Mac High’s College Credit Now program, which consistently awards more credits than any other high school in Oregon; and school-business partnerships such as that with the Evergreen Museums.

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