The new face of Student Success Act implementation has long ties to Oregon while working in the national education arena.
Scott Nine is the first assistant superintendent of the Oregon Department of Education's new Office of Education Innovation and Improvement. He reports directly to Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill.
The office will be primarily focused on administering the act's Student Investment Account, which will provide about $500 million a year in enrollment-based district grants. The office will also be charged with trying to align ODE's other offices with the act's processes and goals.
Nine started part time on Aug. 12 and will begin full time on Sept. 9. He is transitioning into the job from his most recent role as deputy director of strategy and program at the National Education Support Fund. The NESF was established to bring together people to find ways to improve public education.
Both Nine's parents are educators, and he was a middle school English teacher before moving to Oregon in 2003. Nine has lived in the Portland Montavilla neighborhood for most of the past 15 years while doing local and national consulting work. He has worked on using research to remodel education systems with local input so they are focused on student needs.
'When I heard he was the candidate, I thought this is a guy who can do the work,' said Gladstone Schools Superintendent Bob Stewart. Nine was an equity trainer for Gladstone about five years ago.
Stewart said Nine is knowledgeable and passionate. He said Nine will ask challenging questions about schools that will make an impact for all students.
Nine gave his first media interview to OREdNews. He took questions by phone Wednesday, after ODE rolled out its Student Investment Account Engagement Toolkit. His answers have been edited for clarity.
Q. What is your guiding education philosophy?
A. Before I share my personal philosophy, I think it's worth taking a second to talk about the guiding philosophy of the department. ODE is committed to fostering equity and excellence for every learner in Oregon, and I'm joining a team in motion. It's important to see where that shared focus is and to aim to really partner with every school district in each community and for every student. If I had to boil my own guiding education philosophy down to one word, it would be learning. I've been guided by trying to understand what creates the conditions for powerful learning, whether it's learning for students, families, educators, systems or even legislators.
Q. What will the new office's mandate be and what will your role be?
A. The mandate from the Student Success Act is clear: Continue to improve outcomes for students of color; students with disabilities; emerging bilingual students; students navigating poverty, homelessness or foster care; and others who have long experienced disparities in our system. That mandate is rooted in the yearlong listening tour of the Joint Committee on Student Success. It's rooted in educators' efforts for decades looking for increased investment and a vision of community and family engagement, and it's connected to the governor's own call to action. That sustained call is what informs this investment as a mandate to really focus on what creates a sense of belonging and engagement and health for students and for educators across the state. My job is to provide leadership on how you take all those ideas and turn them into reality. My background mixes entrepreneurial engagement with system improvement. I have a track record of taking ideas and figuring out how you move them into implementation.
Q. How does the Student Success Act fit with the national education conversation?
A. It's worth noting that Oregon is facing the opportunity and the responsibility of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The state and each district have an opportunity to have more decision-making power to create optimal learning conditions for students and better working conditions for educators, particularly being responsive to community needs and dreams. While that is playing out state by state and through different policies and different theories of systems change, we are going to see a significant investment where there is a policy window for educators in Oregon to step forward into that space.
Q. What are the key ingredients to making the act successful?
A. The first one is it has to be a whole team effort. Each person has to see the role they can play. We need everyone's contributions. One of the things we know from national research is that parents, families and educators often have a hard time seeing all the parts of the system and to see their role in it. Second, we have to be responsible to young people, families and educators. Third, it requires a strong and open stance where we can see the long view of the next decade or two and what this investment means for Oregon while also paying attention to what is unfolding day by day in our own towns and our airwaves. Four, we have to learn. And the fifth one is coherence. We know from research on high-performing systems internationally and in this country that systems that create coherence are ones that will move the needle over time.
Q. What is the local implementation role and how does that fit with your office?
A. The local role is about leadership and professional judgment and doing the real work to authentically engage the community while advancing strategic plans and work that will eventually contribute to changes in reading proficiency, student health and engagement, and graduation rates. This new office is about creating the right amount of clarity, challenge and support for district and community leaders. We have to start from the place of being support-based, and we have to make it easier for districts to navigate the different policy options and resources available to them while nurturing the important work that is happening. The state is the support, and we need folks to be able to step into that leadership role.
Q. What advice do you have for school board members and administrators?
A. We really are in a change point or a new era of education in Oregon, which will only be true if we live and practice and lean into a forward stance where we really ask questions, like: How can we build and nurture the coherent, powerful and equitable education system that we have always wanted? With the changes in federal and state laws, we have the most significant window of opportunity to lead and drive transformative change for Oregon students and communities in at least 30 years. One of the most important aspects of stepping into this opportunity for all of us is to shed some of the compliance-based habits that have impacted districts, ODE and educators' mindsets. The most important thing to keep in mind is a bigger horizon: What can happen for students, families and educators if we all play our part.