Educator hopes to rebound in Jewell

Stephen Phillips will likely be a new executive administrator in the Jewell School District.

JEWELL — A prospective new hire by Jewell School District is turning some heads because of a past social media post.

Stephen Phillips, who is finalizing a contract to be a new executive administrator in Jewell, comes from Beaverton School District, where he resigned as deputy superintendent in April after retweeting a claim that undocumented immigrants are more dangerous than assault rifles and should be banned from the United States.

The retweet caused the school district to apologize and some in the community to form a petition calling for Phillips’ dismissal. He later apologized and announced his resignation in a letter to Beaverton Superintendent Don Grotting, calling the retweet a mistake that does not define him as a person.

Phillips said he is hoping to prove himself anew at Jewell.

“Long story short, it’s going to take time,” he said. “It’s going to take people getting to know me, and realizing I’m an educator that cares about kids and wants what’s best for kids — that’s all kids.”

More than 20 candidates applied for the executive administrator position. Jewell Superintendent Alice Hunsaker said the district underwent a thorough search and vetting process before deciding on Phillips.

“I think people deserve the opportunity to learn from mistakes and know that they’re not going to make them again,” she said. “And I’m very confident that that’s not a mistake Mr. Phillips will make in the future.

“Steve has an extensive amount of experience to bring to the district, and I think we’re lucky to get a candidate of his quality.”

Phillips spent two years at Beaverton as deputy superintendent. He was recruited there from the Malheur Educational Service District in Eastern Oregon, where he was superintendent for four years and director of secondary education for four years prior.

He spent five years as a middle school vice principal and two as a math teacher in Nyssa near the Oregon-Idaho border. His first teaching job was in the Burnt River School District, which he said served about 100 students during his time there.

Jewell, located in rural southeast Clatsop County, averages around 150 students K-12.

Members of the Jewell Education Association had opposed Phillips’ hiring after learning of his past. Don Anderson, an English teacher and co-president of the association, said 13 out of 14 teachers responding to a survey did not support his hiring. The association includes about 20 members.

One teacher resigned over Phillips’ hiring, Anderson said.

Phillips met with the staff Wednesday and addressed the concerns. Although the meeting didn’t change his feelings about the gravity of Phillips’ retweet, Anderson said, “he came across as a real person and a pretty good guy.”

As an English teacher, Anderson said, he was also concerned about Phillips’ decision in Beaverton to censor “Stick,” a young adult novel including a gay protagonist discovering his sexuality, from students in the 10th grade and below after complaints by a parent over the themes of sexuality.

The decision came against the recommendation of a committee convened to review the complaint to keep the book available. Phillips told The Oregonian the decision was a compromise and that he “felt that the content within the book was too mature for all audiences.”

The education association is taking a wait-and-see approach with Phillips, Anderson said. His contract will likely be finalized at a June 18 school board meeting.

Phillips will report to Hunsaker, the part-time superintendent since 2013, and oversee Principal Terrence Smyth. Hunsaker and Smyth are in a relationship.

“Me and Smyth are retiring at the end of next year, and obviously Mr. Phillips would be a candidate for the superintendency, were he to be happy here,” Hunsaker said, adding the district’s goal is to eventually have one full-time position each for superintendent and principal.

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