Three finalists, all from Ohio school districts were whittled to two candidates following in-person interviews last week. Michael Sander, superintendent of the Clinton-Massie Local School District was eliminated from contention.
“I think it went well. I think I was able to answer the questions. They were fairly detailed,” said Dr. Rivera. “To me, when you’re speaking about something you’re passionate about, I felt I did a good job. It was good enough for them to bring me back to the next round. I’m very pleased.”
Rivera is vying for the Oregon school superintendent opening against Deborah Piotrowski, superintendent of the Xenia Community Schools.
Ms. Pietrowski is making her third bid this year to take the administrative helm of a Northwest Ohio school district. She was one of five finalists for the interim superintendent job at Toledo Public Schools earlier this year, but did not make the final cut. She was also a finalist in February for a similar opening in the Rossford Exempted Village Schools.
Dr. Rivera currently is principal of Wayne Trail Elementary School in Maumee, but has longstanding ties to Oregon City Schools. The Oregon Clay High School graduate still lives there as well.
“I’m very familiar with that district. I’m a product of that district—went through elementary school, middle school, and high school there,” he said. “My parents and my grandparents live there. I’m from Jerusalem Township. Sometimes there’s a separation there with the township. I think you need people who can bring them together in the community and that’s a big piece. My children all attend that district.”
Rivera has been married to wife Tammy for 17 years and has three children—sons Jared, 13, and Alec, 10, and daughter Gabrielle, 6. He believes being the hometown candidate gives him an advantage in the superintendent search.
“I think I’m fairly respected in the district and in the community,” he said. “I’ve always had a heart for the community and the children there. I think that’s a big help.”
Rivera applied for the Oregon school superintendent job five years ago, but lost out to another district educator at the time. If he’s chosen, Rivera would replace that same person: Michael Zalar, who left to become superintendent of the North Olmsted City Schools near Cleveland. Zalar had been Oregon's superintendent for five years and was principal at Clay High School for six years prior to that. Rivera stated his belief that he’s more prepared this time to take the helm.
“At that time, I was certainly eager, but I don’t think I had as much of the knowledge and understanding that I needed to know,” he admitted. “While I was at TPS, that’s a big district with lots of intricate issues to deal with. As chief of staff, I had my hands in a lot of different aspects in that district. That TPS position gave me a lot of insight into what the central office life is all about, with experience helping to run the business division, personnel issues, teacher evaluations. In my mind, I’ll be very comfortable now dealing with the issues I would in a district the size of Oregon.”
Rivera was surprised to learn he may become the first Latino school superintendent in Northwest Ohio. But he stated he was raised to see himself as “a Christian first, as an American second,” and with a Latino heritage in the background. His father was a migrant worker and his mother is of German descent.
“My dad has always been proud of where I’ve made it. To him, a big barrier has been lifted in many ways,” said Rivera. “Dad was dirt-poor and had a rough life, had to move around an awful lot. I’m very proud of that aspect, I guess—just a generation ago, where my family has come from and to where I’ve been able to go. That’s been a big blessing from God, that’s for sure.”
Rivera also finished as a state runner-up in the 189-pound weight class his senior year in wrestling at Clay. He attended the University of Toledo on a wrestling scholarship. After winning the MAC wrestling championship in 1994, he was forced to transfer to Cleveland State University because UT dropped its wrestling program.
After college, Rivera was hired at Toledo Public Schools (TPS) because Oregon had no openings for a special education teacher. He began his career in 1996 at Pickett Elementary School in Toledo as a special education teacher. After two years, he moved to Woodward High School, where he was dean of students. In 1999, he was appointed as assistant principal of Sherman Elementary School, where he later became principal.
Rivera returned to Oregon in 2003 to become principal at Coy Elementary School. He returned to TPS in 2008 as acting assistant superintendent for program development and advancement, but was quickly promoted to chief of staff.
But Rivera left that post two years later, as then-TPS Superintendent John Foley decided to retire. He took the Maumee principal post, citing a desire to return to elementary education.
“I do. My love being around the kids and my heart and passion is with children,” he said. “But at this point where I am currently, there’s a lot of building and rebuilding that needs to be done in our community where I live. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to try to do my very best to help make my community even better. I think you have to have some deep roots when it comes to making some systemic changes that you need to really make.”
In that regard, Rivera likes the Oregon city school system situation to the TPS board of education’s recent hire of a hometown product to be its interim schools superintendent. In fact, Rivera worked with Dr. Romules Durant at TPS when both were hired as top administrators. Both are fairly young to reach such a level; and both are former college athletes. Dr. Durant played football at the University of Toledo. The pair also completed a doctorate program as classmates.
“I wouldn’t have considered a central office position anywhere else other than my home,” he said. “I think as an athlete, you get beat down—but you learn to get up and keep going. I think that athletics have played a huge part in my life—to have that grit to keep going. I think that’s been a big part of my development as a person.
All three candidates were interviewed at a school board meeting Monday, June 17 and the two finalists were scheduled to appear at a “meet and greet” session with the community on Tuesday, June 25.
Oregon City Schools have one high school, two middle schools, three elementary schools, an adult education center and the Eagle Learning Center. The district was rated ‘effective’ for the 2011-2012 school year, meeting 23 of 26 state indicators, as well as the state’s value-added measures. The district has a performance index of 97.7 percent.