High Desert Education Service District Superintendent Paul Andrews has announced his retirement at the end of June 2024. Andrews has been with the region’s Education Service District for 25 years, first teaching, then innovating and growing programs, and ultimately leading the organization as superintendent beginning in 2017.

Andrews was 31 years old when he accepted a job as a Central Oregon autism specialist in 1999. It was the launch of a 25-year career with the ESD, which came to be called the High Desert Education Service District in 2003. Before joining the organization, Andrews worked as a special education teacher in classrooms from kindergarten through high school in Washington and Alaska.

His heart for special education developed early in life after having loved and lost an identical twin brother, Peter, when they were only four years old. Peter was born with cerebral palsy, vision impairment and intellectual disabilities. Sadly, there were few support services for people with disabilities at that time, and the boys’ parents were encouraged to institutionalize Peter. He died in the nursing home where he lived without ever having access to Early Childhood Special Education because it didn’t exist.

Peter would have been 11 years old when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law was implemented in 1977, making free special education and related services required to children with disabilities throughout the nation. This reality was the early inspiration for Andrews’ career in special education.

Growing with HDESD

While county-based regional education services had been in place in Oregon since 1860, it wasn’t until 1997 that Central Oregon’s ESD began providing special education to children ages 0 to 21. Within one year of joining the ESD, Andrews recognized a pressing need for students experiencing disabilities so he developed an Assistive Technology program in 2000, bringing equipment and software designed to enhance learning for special education students in seven counties in Central Oregon.

In 2003, Andrews was appointed director of special programs, a role in which he served for eight years before being named executive director of school improvement in 2011. In 2012, he accepted the role of deputy superintendent, working in partnership with his predecessor John Rexford. In 2017, he accepted the position of superintendent and led the organization through significant growth and challenges, including the global pandemic.

Success and visibility

When asked what he is most proud of, Andrews is quick to talk about the HDESD team.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” he said. “We have over 300 people doing amazing work every day and I feel incredibly fortunate to have shared my career with them. I’m excited to watch their continued success and stewardship of this work.”

When it comes to awareness, Andrews explained that often people don’t know what Education Service Districts do.

“If we’re doing our job well as an ESD, we are often behind the scenes. We bring people together and make district teams’ lives easier. Oftentimes, when you read or hear about students’ success in the news, HDESD plays an important role and not everyone knows that.”

The delicate balance, says Andrews, comes with maintaining the appropriate level of visibility to ensure continued support and funding for regional services.

Supporting partner school districts

As the central resource for the region’s early childhood education (0-5 years), special education (0-21 years), mental/behavioral health, substitute teachers, driver education and other specialized programs, HDESD uses a shared resource model to make sure partner school districts have the support they need to provide cost-effective, healthy, safe and inclusive environments for students of all abilities, races, genders and walks of life.

“The HEDESD has served as the regional flagship as it comes to the common best interest for families and students,” said Steven Cook, superintendent for Bend-La Pine Schools. “They sit in the role of a stabilizing force to ensure that the needs of all students, including those furthest from justice, access, and opportunity have a voice at the table. They are great partners in delivering a multitude of services to our schools and districts. They provide support, guidance, training, staff and resources across so many different areas. We could not be as effective without their partnership.”

Cook explains that the true benefit is the scale and scope of the support offered by the HDSED.

“I think the other district superintendents would agree that we couldn’t function without them,” he said. “Paul is the consummate professional. He is a voice of reason for our group of superintendents and is willing to help with anyone at any time. He is one of the most polished diplomatic servant leaders I have had the pleasure to work with.”

In retirement, Andrews plans to enjoy time and travel with his wife Jenny, and continue teaching as an adjunct professor for Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he obtained his Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership.

The HDESD board of directors announced earlier this month that they are partnering with Human Capital Enterprises to support them in the selection of the next Superintendent.