Scott Nine, Apache Junction High School Class of 1994. If you’re in the same general age group, you may remember him from football, basketball, baseball, tennis, Drama Club, Math Club or Student Council.
Fast forward 25 years, and this hometown boy is now responsible for coordinating Oregon’s $2 billion initiative to restructure public education. As the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Oregon’s new Office of Education Innovation and Improvement, his office will steward the Student Investment Account and the implementation of the Student Success Act district grants.
A press release heralded his appointment: “Nine joins the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) from the National Public Education Support Fund, a federal-level philanthropic education non-profit organization with a mission to ‘promote the opportunity for all children to receive an excellent education from birth through college and career.’ Nine has spent almost two decades organizing, writing, speaking and learning about what it takes to foster equity for students and remodel public education systems.”
The Student Success Act reverses thirty years of state funding cuts to public education (the result of placing a cap on property tax rates) by channeling proceeds from a new business tax into programs impacting student performance. As Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown stated, “We can finally invest in an education system that will ensure every single student in our state is on a path to realizing their dreams for the future.”
The News reached out to Nine for insight about this monumental effort:
The News: From what I’m reading, the Student Success Act sounds like a complete overhaul of the education system is in the works. How do you plan to implement such a massive effort without losing ground during the transition?
Nine: It’s more of a re-orientation and remodeling than a complete overhaul. I say that, because it’s important to celebrate and name the important work educators and school leaders have already been doing. The Student Success Act focuses our attention and creates the supports to improve outcomes for students of color; students with disabilities; emerging bilingual students; students navigating poverty, homelessness and foster care and others who have experienced disparities in our system.
The News: What is the first goal of implementation? And what will your role be?
Nine: The first goal of implementation is creating the right conditions, relationships and practices to support the big vision and values of the Student Success Act. We’ve just released initial guidance to support districts in authentically engaging students, families and staff and integrate that learning into their longer-term planning.
My job is to provide leadership in how we work across the state to take these ideas and make them a reality.
The new office is about creating the right amount of clarity, challenge and support for district leaders and communities. We are eager 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 and needs to happen in real time in each community.
The News: Having worked at the national level for many years toward remodeling public education, do you see any hope that our nation might reprioritize public education anytime in the near future?
Nine: I see reason to hope and and reason to be concerned. The hope comes from efforts like the Partnership for the Future of Learning and important developments happening in places like California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Tennessee and New Mexico. There are great educators and leaders doing important work in every state, as well as in places like Puerto Rico and the 573 sovereign nations of the U.S.
The reasons for concern are many. One I’ll name is the impacts on children and teachers when communities are fractured, frightened and experiencing the world from wildly different perspectives based on politics, faith, skin color and wealth.
The News: Will Oregon prove to be a test case for change?
Nine: Oregon is committed to fulfilling the vision of the Student Success Act, and time will tell, as our actions will speak louder than words.
Between changes in federal law, from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and changes in state law, districts have the most significant window of opportunity to lead and drive transformative change for Oregon’s students and communities in at least 30 years.
The News: What was the motivating force that drove a kid from AJ to pursue education reformation?
Nine: I experienced so much care and support growing up. And as my life has unfolded, I’ve had the privilege to see a big world and face the reality of a world that is wildly uneven and where, I believe, we’ve lost track of our shared humanity and responsibility to each other.
At some point, I determined that schools are one of the last and most important places where people might come together, and where we really do cultivate and shape our collective future.
So, I’ve pursued, somewhat relentlessly, a path to learn how schools and classrooms and systems work and how we might move them to match the brighter future I think so many people want for their kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren.
The News: Are there any lessons learned in AJ that have stayed with you along the way?
Nine: Coach Henry encouraging me to be my best me.
Ms. Wiseman pushing me to lead, even when hard or where others, including her, might be skeptical.
My friends helping me find humor in the little things.
Coach Richardson and my dad [Dr. Gary Nine] yelling at me to “shoot the ball.”
My sister [Jodi Nine-Ehrlich] showing me what it means to be resilient.
Knowing what it is to be on a team where people have your back.
Remembering how it feels to be discounted as “the kids from AJ,” while figuring out what pride and humility and strength are about. There’s more, but that’s a good start.
The News: Would you mind sharing some personal information?
Nine: Sure. I’m happily celebrating 22 years of marriage with my wife Hollie (maiden name Kolpin). We have three kids. Our oldest, Kristofer, is a junior in college at the University of Vermont. Our daughters, Kylin Delight and Ellanore, are 12 and 9.
A big shout out to all former classmates and teachers and the sense of connection I feel, no matter how many years and how little contact we have!
Nine received his BA in Education from Northern Arizona University and a MSW focused in Community Organizing and Non-Profit Administration from Arizona State University. He taught middle school before moving into a career focused on education advocacy, research and policy.
In 2014, he was featured in the American Education Research Association’s Lead the Change series, which highlighted “renowned educational change experts from around the globe.”