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Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek announces education staff, as director plans retirement later this year

Colt Gill standing at a podium.
File photo
Bethel School District
Colt Gill has served as the director of the Oregon Department of Education since 2018.

In a press release shared Friday, Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek announced plans for staff changes in the education department as she prepares to take over this month.

Kotek also announced the retirement of the Oregon Department of Education’s top official, Colt Gill, at the end of this year’s legislative session. A national search will be announced soon to find Gill’s replacement. In the release, Kotek said she appreciated Gill for his work “as an advocate and as a leader in our state government.”

In a message to superintendents Friday morning, Gill reflected on his 34 years in education in Oregon.

“I know I will miss this work, I will miss working with all of you in our districts and communities, and I will miss working under the Governor-Elect’s leadership,” Gill said. “This work has been a privileged opportunity, an opportunity of a lifetime, and one that I strived to assign deep responsibility to and treat as such.”

Prior to his current role, Gill served as the state’s Education Innovation Officer and as the superintendent of the Bethel School District in Eugene.

Gill reflected on some of the department’s accomplishments over the last several years, including the Student Success Act, the state’s Tribal History Shared History curriculum and updated ethnic studies standards. In the last two years of his tenure, Gill has faced an intense set of challenges. He was a key advisor to Gov. Kate Brown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and played a central role in how schools dealt with the health risks and education challenges. Gill also had to navigate increased politicization of education from school boards and parents, and downward trends in attendance, graduation rates and academic achievement.

He also shared a message of support for Oregon’s next leader.

“Even though our state will continue to face challenges, I truly believe this is a good time for children in Oregon,” Gill wrote.

“Governor-Elect Kotek is focusing on three priorities: Housing, behavioral health, and education. This focus and her long track record of accomplishment bodes well for our kids.”

Kotek announced other staff who will lead education policy work as she begins her tenure. They include Pooja Bhatt, who will be Oregon’s Education Initiative Director and part of a new three-person team focused on Kotek’s three priority areas.

Bhatt most recently served as co-founder and managing partner of SeeChange, a consulting firm that works with organizations on strategy and policy. The organization has worked with school districts and other educational institutions and nonprofits.

Also joining the governor’s education team is Melissa Goff, who will serve as the governor’s education advisor. Goff most recently worked for the Oregon School Boards Association as its deputy executive director. Prior to that role, Goff led Greater Albany Public Schools as its superintendent until she was fired without cause in July 2021. Her firing and others in the state led to a bill to protect superintendents fired without a reason given.

Kotek also announced Annaliese Dolph as the state’s new Behavioral Health Initiative director, Taylor Smiley Wolfe as the Housing Initiative director and Ebony Clarke as the state’s Behavioral Health director.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Miller
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