Get to know PPS superintendent finalist Donyall Dickey

Here's what you need to know about Donyall Dickey

Dr. Donyall Dickey, the Chief Schools Officer and Chief Academic Officer for Atlanta Public Schools, is a finalist for Portland Public Schools superintendent (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Donyall Dickey, the Chief Schools Officer and Chief Academic Officer for Atlanta Public Schools, is a finalist for Portland Public Schools superintendent (Courtesy photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Donyall Dickey will start leading Oregon’s largest district this summer, assuming he passes through the next few weeks of public vetting.

A rising star in education on the East Coast, Dickey says he is a “unicorn” for having worked at many levels of the pre K-12 scene, and that he is “designed for turbulence” that tends to come with the job. Here are a few quick facts on what you need to know about Dickey.

If selected, it will be his fourth new job in four years

Dickey has just three and a half years of central office experience and has risen quickly from his start as an elementary teacher in 1997. He was a middle school principal from 2007 to 2013.

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Dickey says he’s been asked numerous times to step into bigger leadership roles and denies that he is job-hopping.

“It’s not out of impatience. It’s not even out of ambition,” he says. “When the superintendent asks you to take on more responsibility, and you’re able to, you do so.”

“I’m no nomad,” he adds. “As long as the board of education and the Portland community views me as a valuable member of the team, I’m willing to stay in Portland.”

Check out his resume, which shows a career spanning Maryland, Pennsylvania and Georgia as a teacher, vice principal, principal and administrator. He is currently Chief Schools Officer and Chief Academic Officer at Atlanta Public Schools, a district similar in size to PPS.

Dickey completed a doctorate in educational leadership and policy last year. His dissertation was on student achievement gaps and testing.

He expects to educate on race

“I’m no stranger to serving in a community where I am a minority,” Dickey says, referencing his six years as a principal in Howard County, Maryland, which is 62 percent white. Portland is 77 percent white and continues to have significant difficulty around race relations.

“Racism is born out of ignorance,” Dickey says. “What do I do when I’m ignorant about something? I go and I learn.”

Dickey says he will likewise approach any racism he encounters as an opportunity for education.

He says Portland could be a ‘national model’

Dickey says he was attracted to Portland because of its engaged parents, skilled staff, growing student enrollment, dual-language programs, early childhood education and building modernization effort.

He says the district has all the right ingredients to be “a national model for urban school improvement.”

How will he do that?

Dickey says he wants to use student outcome data and strategic planning to accomplish his goals. A former middle school principal, he does not commit to continuing with a plan to convert many of the district’s K-8 schools into a middle school model. He says this is becaus he first wants to see student outcome data from those schools.

“The data would set the imperative for change,” he says.

Dickey also emphasizes what he calls “co-identifying” problems and “co-constructing” solutions. He says one of his top strengths is restoration and he plans to do that through collaboration.

“Listening is more than about exchanging information,” Dickey says. “It’s actually about hearing the concerns of the constituency and working with them to develop the strategies to respond. …It’s also about providing insight to the implementation.”

What’s next?

School board members will visit his current district, as well as continue vetting and contract negotiations before making the final offer in a public meeting.

“We look forward to introducing him to the PPS community over the coming months,” PPS board Chair Tom Koehler says.

Dickey would start at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1, succeeding Interim Superintendent Bob McKean who took over in August after longtime Superintendent Carole Smith left abruptly in the wake of the lead-in-water scandal last year.