MILTON-FREEWATER — Aaron Duff was named by unanimous vote as the Milton-Freewater Unified School District’s new superintendent at a special board meeting Monday.

Duff will replace Rob Clark, who leaves the position July 3 after six years to become interim superintendent for Sequim School District.

Clark announced his new job last week and officially tendered his resignation at Monday’s meeting.

Led by outgoing chairman Duane Geyer, the MFUSD board members went back and forth on the best options for replacing Clark. Ideas included using an interim superintendent for a year while Duff — who has worked as the district’s director of business and operations for two years — learns more about the job.

Clark recommended Duff without hesitation.

“I will tell you one of the reasons I felt comfortable applying at Sequim was, in a sense, because I knew there was someone ready to step up and take my place,” Clark told the board.

“In the last two years I’ve worked as closely with Aaron as I have anyone in my career. I fully recommend him as interim superintendent.”

While an interim position seems reasonable, that measure can allow things to slip through the cracks, board members Mike Lesko and Don Miller said.

Duff’s long experience with the district makes him an asset, Miller added.

“Aaron Duff has been getting groomed for this job for two years.”

Duff facilitated financial, design and other details of Gib Olinger Elementary School that opened this past autumn, as well as building upgrades at other district facilities as part of the district’s 2016 bond work.

Before board members voted Monday, Duff said he’d expected to have a couple more years before applying for the superintendent position and urged the board to be completely comfortable with whatever was decided.

This morning Duff said he appreciated Monday’s discourse in an open session.

“That’s a testament to the board. They understand these are community conversations for anyone who cares to come and hear them. And those are the same conversations people have probably been having over the last week.”

Monday evening’s vote was like a period at the end of what has felt like a “14-year interview,” Duff said with a laugh.

“But until a couple years ago, I didn’t know I was interviewing.”

Coming into the district office as an administrator showed Duff a pathway for a superintendent position — not for the title, but for the children who attend school in Milton-Freewater, he said.

As a former teacher and principal, Duff said he knows having an interim superintendent can leave a district in pause mode.

“You’re not going backwards but you’re also not moving forward. And it leaves a lot of unknowns.”

Duff, 39, came to MFUSD in 2004 as McLoughlin High School’s agriculture and technology teacher. He became principal of Freewater Elementary School in 2012 and business and operations director in 2017. His wife, Katie, works for Blue Mountain Community College. The couple has three children, all enrolled in Milton-Freewater schools.

Duff attended elementary school in Pendleton and Helix and graduated from high school in Hillsboro, Ore. He earned a masters in education from Oregon State University in 2008 and most recently a continuing administrative license from Lewis an Clark College in Portland in 2017.

The school board will begin a search to fill the business manager shoes Duff is stepping out of.

At the June 18 board meeting, Geyer said the board would discuss results of recent exit interviews of a wave of resigning Mac-Hi employees this week. After Monday’s session, however, he said the board decided to not publish those findings but instead share that gleaned information with administrators who can begin making needed changes.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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