As the dust settles from the whirlwind of another school year startup here in rural Oregon, I’ve been holding my breath to see how the deep state budget cuts made last spring are going to impact my two teenagers’ schooling.
From my standpoint, staff, parents and students are doing their best to keep programs intact and classroom instruction quality high, though the system is strained to breaking point. And we are going more and more often to our own family pocketbook to help sustain programs that used to be taken for granted.
Here’s how the crisis in public education funding in Oregon is playing out in Sisters for the 2011-12 school year.
- The elementary school principal position was eliminated, with responsibilities for parent relations and basic staff coordination transferred to a lead teacher, who doubles as a kindergarten instructor.
- With administrative staff whittled to bone, the district superintendent has assumed new responsibilities such as cleaning the men’s bathroom, performing teacher evaluations at the elementary school, and answering phones, since he has no longer has a secretary. He is also responsible for implementing the new Chalkboard planning grant. Reports are that the few still left on staff at the district office are working before sunup until late hours to cover the work of three RIFed staff members, on top of their own workloads.
- The part-time coordinator for our district’s highly-regarded Aspire program, a volunteer-based mentoring program to help high school upperclassmen and -women make post-graduation plans, was RIFed. Fortunately, public outcry resulted in school administrators and a private philanthropist cobbling together enough grant money to continue the program, at least for this year.
- The pace of fundraising has picked up. For school year 2011-12 our family has participated in three car washes, an evening benefit and auction, and a golf tournament…set up a bed-and-breakfast for quilt show visitors… waited tables at a community dinner…made two direct contributions to teams…and canvassed local merchants to solicit items for an auction basket—and this is three weeks in. (more…)
I like to ask my fourth graders what college they are planning to attend. Of course, they think I’m asking them if they are a Duck or a Beaver. I am really serious about this though. Kids and parents need to know that some sort of post high school education is the goal for all Oregon kids.
This economy has taught us all that education is vital. Economists can debate whether current unemployment is cyclical, a downturn that will rebound, or structural, a result of a tipping of economic needs away from low skilled labor to the need for a more educated workforce. Whatever the case, the jobs of the future will require more advanced math skills and the ability to quickly master new skills. We can’t have kids think that ending their education after high school is an option that will lead to future financial security.
Since post secondary education is a necessity, I like to peruse the web in search of what college prep schools are doing. What are charter school expectations? What are elite schools doing for their students? I checked in with the Dalton School (NYC) to see what their fourth graders will be doing. The Dalton School has a $38,000 price tag and 60 staff for approximately 350 students. It may sound unfair but graduates from these schools will be competing with my students to get into top colleges. Their 4th graders have an hour and half of homework a night and an extensive reading list. We should expect our public school kids to have the same. We should also expect families to realize this new reality and do what it takes to support a more vigorous program and to expect their child to attend college.
In looking further I found charter schools in low income areas with graduates in elite colleges. This week the New York Times reported about efforts in Houston public schools to replicate effective charter schools like KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone where a high percentage of graduates head to college (“Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters” Sept. 6).
I really appreciate these charters for showing us what is possible. It’s too easy to look at impoverished neighborhoods and think that kids there can’t make it at competitive colleges. With concerted effort effective charter schools are cranking out the productive citizens of the future from some of the least productive neighborhoods.
In the article the author cited the 5 common policies of effective charters.
- longer school days and years;
- more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers;
- frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught;
- “high-dosage tutoring”;
- and a “no excuses” culture.
The policies that public school teachers like me can control are limited. Without more support staff, high dosage tutoring is out. Without a better funding structure we are severely limited in the amount of instructional time we can give kids. For example, KIPP kids typically get twice as much math instruction as public school kids. Even the Texas schools mimicking the model of KIPP fell short by 300 hours of instructional time (50 6 hr school days).
My colleagues and I are working hard to tailor instruction to meet individual needs through data collection and targeted standards-based instruction. Along with this comes a beefed-up “no excuses” culture.
Teachers will continue to look at research and mimic what works. Meanwhile, we’ll look to the citizens of this state to fill in the other requirements on the list. How will we provide more instructional time? How will we mobilize tutors to target failing students? When will we start showing kids in Oregon that they are important, and give them the tools they need to make college an attainable goal?
Last week, Dan Jamison and I were invited to help facilitate the Mid-Valley Boys and Girls Club staff retreat in Lincoln City. This Boys and Girls Club serves kids in the Mid-Willamette Valley area within the Albany, Sweet Home and Lebanon school districts and provides a fun, safe and supervised environment for recreational and educational activities. Dan and I were particularly excited about this retreat because Albany and Lebanon happen to be two of our 18 CLASS districts.
Chalkboard was invited to this retreat to provide the Boys and Girls Club with an introduction to the CLASS Project, share current state and federal education policy issues, and also provide a snapshot of some of Oregon’s student data. And we were happy to join, always wanting to build our outreach and share important education-related information with communities throughout the state. This was also a great opportunity for the Boys and Girls Club staff to gain a better understanding of what’s going on with the students and teachers within their school districts—particularly those involved in CLASS.
It also wasn’t hard to say yes to a day at the coast, in Lincoln City where the retreat was held. The day promised to be full of hard work, creative thinking, and a bit of an ocean breeze. And after teaching for 32 years in Albany and serving as a principal at all three levels in the Greater Albany School District, Dan was excited to engage with the club. He even ran into some of his former students!
CHALKBOARD NOTE: Our President, Sue Hildick, worked closely with Senator Hatfield in the early years of her career. A version of this tribute first appeared on PSU’s Center for Woman, Politics and Policy’s website soon after his death last month. There will be a public tribute to Sen. Hatfield’s life and work later this month at the State Capitol in Salem. Find out more details and read more remembrances on the PSU Center for Public Service memorial site.
Although we lost one of Oregon’s greatest statesmen on August 7, I have been missing Senator Mark O. Hatfield for a number of years. He was my first employer and greatest teacher of my professional career.
For those of us who had a calling to work in Washington, D.C., Oregonians could find an oasis on the seventh floor of the Hart Building. It was a classroom. A museum. A place of hard work and difficult decisions. Most importantly, it was a home for Oregonians who wanted to do good things for their beloved state.
At the age of 26, I was asked to serve as his legislative director; at the time, he was the second most senior Republican on the Hill. I told the Senator that I wasn’t sure I could handle the responsibility and he said, “Don’t worry. We’ll do it together.” He had so much confidence in the people who worked for him and always brought out the best in all of us—an important quality of a great leader.
Pictured: Sue Hildick (upper left) and Senator Hatfield (lower right) and staff in his Hart building office on Capitol Hill in 1995.