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Rural communities, and especially Oregon’s tribal communities, have many significant challenges to providing enriching childhood educational programs and leadership experiences. A successful program serving the Burns-Paiute Tribe has a mission to “Provide a safe and supportive environment where youth will learn tradition, language and culture”, and help the Burns-Paiute youth embrace a proud self-identity and a positive healthy lifestyle.”
“Tuwakii-Nobi (Kid’s House) provides a consistent learning environment. Every day after school, the tutors are there, the computers are there—we have consistency for our children. This is where we engage these kids, and then line them up with leadership and education opportunities,” said Michelle Bradach, Burns-Paiute social services director.
The Burns-Paiute Reservation is located north of Burns in Central Oregon, about 130 miles from Bend, and spans nearly 12,000 acres. There are approximately 380 Burns-Paiute tribal members living in rural Harney County, considered one of the most economically needy areas of Oregon—per capita income is 22.2 percent less than the state average. Since Chalkboard’s 2014 report on the education status of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, the Burns-Paiute tribe has seen marked improvements in math skills, but not in reading. And their school absenteeism rates are some of the highest in the state.
Recognizing the need to improve their children’s academic achievement and wanting a safe and nurturing place for their children after school, the Burns-Paiute people launched Tuwakii-Nobi (Kids’ House) in 2012 with funding from the Oregon Juvenile Justice Department Program (OJJDP). The program offers meaningful wellness programs, plus tutoring, and tribal language instruction.
Fifteen children attend the afterschool program during the four-day school week, and 25 children attend on Fridays. Their three-week summer session bring even more children into the program. Over the last three years, the community has grown to appreciate the program, and a recent community survey rated Tuwakii-Nobi as the top funding priority—a powerful message just as the OJJDP grant monies were running out.
Searching for new funds has been a daunting task for a tribal administration office with a single person managing social services—Michelle Bradach, tribal services administrator. Subsequently, finding time to search for funds has been elusive. How can you find funding for a program when you are understaffed, far from large population centers and nonprofit resources, while each day is consumed with completing the task directly in front of you?
To support the Burns-Paiute Tribe, the Spirit Mountain Community Fund helped build a collaborative partnership between the tribe and Chalkboard Project. The primary purpose—to create a multi-faceted, three-year strategic plan to sustain existing services and expand the offerings to build leadership opportunities for young adults, obtain staffing to build financial support, and move the program into a comprehensive Wellness Center.
The strategic plan was based upon input from a steering committee made up of tribal elders, parents, and children, feedback from the tribal prevention and education staff, and after Chalkboard staff visited the community, and held weekly conference calls afterwards for several months. Chalkboard Vice President of Education Policy Frank Caropelo, Michelle, and program director Elise Adams wrote the plan to both capture the tribe’s vision for its community and serve as the backbone for additional funding.
“Before this program, our tribal children would have their tutoring held in different places and offices—there was no stability for them. Tuwakii-Nobi is a safe place for all tribal youth to go, and experience positive things they would not otherwise do,” said Michelle.
While this official partnership is coming to a close, Chalkboard will continue sharing the story of the Burns-Paiute Tribe and about the dedicated people who are working hard to create a prosperous future for their community.
Bev is Chalkboard’s TIF grant manager and helps organize Chalkboard’s annual all-district meeting.
What happens when you bring together educators and school leaders for an all-day event to share innovations and best practices? You get a super-charged environment of learning, collaboration, creativity, and connection.
That’s exactly what happened on May 12, when more than 150 participants—teachers, building and district administrators, and union representatives—attended Chalkboard’s annual all-district meeting in Eugene. The educators, representatives from districts participating in either the Teacher Incentive Fund or School District Collaboration Fund grants, engaged with statewide peers and learned about innovative practices in Colorado and Tennessee.
In the name of learning together, three Colorado school districts shared their experience of designing a hybrid model for teacher leadership, redesigning the classroom to better align the curriculum with today’s global society, and rethinking educator compensation system for effectiveness and growth. Denver, Douglas County, and Harrison school districts challenged the participants to envision innovative approaches to transforming teaching and learning.
As one participant noted, “It was nice for our team to see what could be designed and hear from teachers about how their leadership roles support students and fellow teachers, and increase their own effectiveness. Triple win!”
Another winning presentation came from Tennessee’s Lipscomb University. Dean Debra Boyd shared the differences in working conditions based on generational characteristics, particularly as Generation Y’ers enter the education workforce. A timely topic about hiring and retention: one that many were dealing with back in their own districts. “If this information were presented two or three years ago, the audience response would have been much different,” remarked one attendee. “But now that our districts have been working on this for the last five years, this doesn’t feel as threatening as before.”
From presentations, to round tables, to brainstorming sessions, it didn’t take long to feel the power of collaboration: educators stepping outside the box, exploring opportunities, and engaging deeply in meaningful learning experiences.
And as the day came to a close, I came away excited about the energy, connectedness, and sharing that took place among passionate educators, who will go back to their districts, schools, and classrooms, and ignite the passion of learning in the children they serve.
Steve Campbell teaches at Ponderosa Middle School in Klamath Falls. A teacher for more than 22 years in Oregon, he was the local teacher association’s president the last four years, and has been involved with CLASS for the past three years and serves as the compensation committee chairperson.
I will honestly admit that I wasn’t very excited to travel to Colorado in February for the Douglas County School District Innovation Summit and Harrison School District #2 visit. At least I wasn’t attending by myself, but instead attending with an Oregon delegation of TIF and Collaboration grantees, plus Dale Rooklyn, our Chalkboard Coach, and Bev Pratt of Chalkboard Project. But in the end, I enjoyed the presentations and seeing the work they are doing in the areas of assessment, teacher evaluation, and compensation.
I didn’t agree with everything they did, however. I was disappointed in how their reforms were created without union involvement—there is perhaps 20 percent union membership in Colorado. I’m grateful for Chalkboard’s assistance in helping the teachers association become a prominent part of the CLASS reforms in Klamath Falls. Having union participation adds important checks and balances to the development process, and, in my opinion, the CLASS program has added greatly to the collaborative relationship between the school district and the association.
My biggest takeaway from Colorado is learning how these school districts created their own assessments after deciding the statewide assessments don’t evaluate what they feel are important.
Harrison School District’s teacher evaluation processes were compelling, and I wish I could have had more time to talk to their teachers about how they felt about scoring and evaluations, accomplished without association input. I flipped through a three-ring binder that included forms that teachers submit for review, outlining their achievements in the field such as mentoring, leadership, additional training, student scores, and others. This application is reviewed, scored, and used to evaluate if a teacher or principal deserves pay increases. As well as being a tool to evaluate pay increases, the reverse is also true—a teacher can go down in pay scale if their work performance falls below a prescribed level of expectations for two consecutive years.
Unfortunately, some of the things I really liked can’t really be replicated down here in Klamath Falls. Perhaps at some of Oregon’s largest school districts, but we have a small district of about 4,000 students, and the Douglas County district has 65,000 students, and we just don’t have the staff to do what they do. Harrison School District had 13 people working exclusively on writing assessments for every grade level.
Back in Colorado, there was a school superintendent who described the boldness of their reforms by saying, “We run with scissors.” They take chances and go for the big things in Denver and as a result, they are at the leading edge by trying new and different things. Here in Klamath Falls, Oregon, our Collaboration grant committees are testing the waters to make meaningful and lasting change happen to improve the profession of teaching, and increase the quality of education for all of our students and the families we serve. And I’ve learned—you can’t judge a conference until you’ve been there.
In schools statewide, instructional assistants are the backbone of programs for English language learners. Usually native speakers of other languages (most often Spanish), these assistants work closely with students to improve in every subject area, from reading to math and science, and the assistants report they are deeply committed to their students and their communities. They also don’t earn much—the starting salary for an instructional assistant in Salem-Keizer is $20,983, compared with $37,320 for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
Many instructional assistants would jump at the chance of becoming teachers if they had the means and support to advance their careers. Portland State University’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway program is an excellent model that is turning instructional assistants into teachers. The Oregon Education Investment Board and Department of Education are also working on initiatives designed to develop career pathways and accelerate the time it takes to make the move from instructional assistant to teacher.
As part of this effort, we also must do more to support to aspiring teachers taking the state licensing exams, which can pose a significant hurdle for non-native speakers.
Maribel Peña’s story is a case in point. A Mexico City native, she studied law at the University of Mexico before moving to Oregon over a decade ago. She attended Chemeketa Community College and was hired in 2004 as an elementary school instructional aide in Salem Keizer. She currently works at Cesar Chavez Elementary. From the start, she was able to make strong connections with her students as well as their families. “I share my own experiences with them,” she says, “and that helps me be an influence.”
She works mainly with students who are native Spanish speakers, some of whom have had such limited schooling they are illiterate in both Spanish or English. Anyone who saw her in action would say she has everything it takes to be an outstanding teacher.
Peña earned top grades in PSU’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program, as well as an endorsement as a teacher of English for speakers of other languages. But despite studying and extra tutoring, she has struggled to pass the licensing exams.
Although her own English language skills are excellent, she had to re-read questions several times and encountered questions and vocabulary that, as a non-native speaker she found tricky to comprehend. Combine that with the pressure of taking a timed test, and you see how much of a challenge lies before prospective bilingual teachers.
“I feel I have earned my own classroom,” she says. “I am more than qualified to be a teacher.” She plans to take the test again. “I want to make a change in my school and my community,” she says. “I want to impact lives.”
Chalkboard’s TeachOregon initiative is working with school districts and colleges and universities to attract more students of color to teacher preparation programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. We have some new programs that start even earlier. The Pro-Team and Teacher Cadet programs being piloted in Salem-Keizer schools gets students interested in teaching careers as early as middle and high school. The High Desert ESD offers college credit to high school students of color who work as summer school interns.
Some of these programs will take time to produce results. However, a ready source of bilingual/bicultural teachers remains to be tapped—instructional assistants already working in classrooms in Oregon. Critical supports for the successful licensing of these potential teachers should be investigated, and then installed, to empower diverse teacher candidates, thus creating a brighter future for Oregon schools.
The debate around student testing continues to escalate. Nationally, Congress is considering removing annual assessments as a requirement for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In Oregon, bills to allow students to opt out of annual testing or removing statewide annual assessments all together are being introduced in the legislative session.
While I agree we should engage in a thoughtful conversation about how we build an effective and balanced assessment system, I am concerned about the rising voices questioning the importance of statewide annual assessments, and the push to allow students to opt out of these tests.
An OEA workgroup commissioned by the Oregon Education Investment Board recently published a white paper proposing a system of assessments to support learning and foster student success. While the workgroup rightly highlights the need for better assessment literacy among educators, especially in formative and classroom summative assessments, it downplays the need to continue annual statewide assessments for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school as currently required.
Chalkboard Project supports the need for a highly effective and balanced assessment system. While teachers must be well versed in formative and classroom summative assessments to help make adjustments to daily instruction, this alone is not enough. The goal of assessment is to improve how our students learn and ensure we are providing the best learning environment possible. Eliminating annual statewide testing would undermine our ability to identify which schools and districts are excelling or struggling; which strategies work or don’t; and where the state should direct its resources. Most importantly, annual statewide assessments are the cornerstone of a public accountability system that ensures historically underserved students and those most at risk are not forgotten or minimized. Statewide assessments provide transparency and are a tool to further equity of access to quality teaching and opportunities to learn for all students.
Every healthy system needs an outside check to monitor progress. Annual statewide assessments provide just that. There are valid concerns about current testing systems. That’s why we support the need to audit the type and number of assessments currently administered in Oregon schools, because many of these test are mandated at the local school or district level, and are often redundant and unnecessary.
At a time when Oregon lags behind nationally in student achievement and high school graduation, getting rid of a useful tool for measuring student learning seems counter productive and irresponsible. We cannot dismiss accountability nor accept mediocrity. As parents, educators, and taxpayers, we should be confident that our state is educating our children, closing achievement gaps, and holding our education system accountable. Annual statewide assessments are an important tool to meet this need.
While much of the Common Core buzz has centered on mathematics, another change is the increased use of non-fiction texts. While many schools already made such increases before Common Core, there are now mandatory increases of using non-fiction texts, beginning at the kindergarten level.
Educator and author Marc Aronson lectured recently in Portland on the topic of increasing non-fictional text usage in schools. Marc earned his doctorate in American History at NYU while working as an editor of books for young readers. He was the first winner of the American Library Association’s Robert F. Sibert Medal for the best informational book for readers through age 14. He teaches in the graduate library school at Rutgers where he trains school and public librarians, and frequently speaks at conferences on materials for children and teenagers.
Marc Aronson found time before his lecture to speak with Chalkboard staff on the topic of the Common Core and the increase of non-fictional text in the classroom. When asked what were the urgent things he would say to Oregon teachers, he had this to offer:
Make sure you have read the Common Core standards.
That is because I think a lot of the heat and tension are from people who “know” the standards third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand. I think when you read the standards, you will find that they are very clear.
Our students are living in an environment of constantly changing knowledge.
This is the reality of the technological world we live in. I believe we are living in a time where tools for gathering data and processing knowledge have exponentially increased their speed and power. Students have to have that forward-thinking mentality because it’s out of our hands—that’s the reality we are in.
I urge teachers to look at the standards, and non-fiction books, non-fiction websites, with the eye of:
- Does this help my students learn inquiry?
- Does this help them see all of knowledge as a detective story?
- Does it help them develop the tools so they can make sense of new ideas, new technology, and new knowledge that will arrive in the coming years, but which isn’t here yet?
If you speak to a librarian, a person who see kids and their caregivers looking for fun reading, they will tell you non-fiction is very popular. Kids want to know things. They want to know things about the world. They want to know things about dinosaurs, weather, and about sharks. And as educators we want to teach reading as a skill that is worth their time. For many kids, non-fiction provides motivation. It makes the process easier, because you are giving students more of what they actually want to read.
I work and meet with countless teachers and administrators across the country. Every time I go to such a conference I hear the story of a child who wanted to read a nonfiction book and was told he couldn’t, because reading meant, “reading a novel.” That is a bias, and therefore, it is a barrier that we have to remove.
We have to expose more teachers and administrators and show how lively, how engaging, how fresh, and how dynamic much of the non-fiction being created for K-12 truly is.
Yesterday, Governor Kitzhaber proposed to spend $9.4 billion in education, half of his $18.6 billion proposed state budget for the next two years. This is an increase of nine percent over the last education budget and demonstrates the governor’s commitment and leadership on strengthening our education system
We welcome this focus on education. The climate for educators is very complex today—constantly evolving and with many challenges, especially as they navigate Common Core, new evaluations, and new state testing. Teachers are the single most important in-school factor that drives student success. That’s why it’s important to put strong resources into support programs that allow them to bring their best to our students, whether they are in preschool, third grade, or ninth.
We support the governor’s priorities in early education and his increased focus on English language learners. These are important and worthy investments. And while we agree it takes efforts on many fronts to prepare our children to succeed, we want to ensure that educators and educator effectiveness remain a top priority. Investing in our educators is the strongest strategy we have to improve the quality of education in Oregon.
During the last budget cycle, the state created the Network for Quality Teaching and Learning as recognition of the need to develop and support effective teachers and leaders by building ongoing statewide systems and supports. The Network impacts the full continuum of an educator’s career pathway and invests in strategies that are evidence based and research driven. The governor’s 2015-17 budget includes the statutory funding set aside for the Network at $37.4 million and continues to expand the School District Collaboration fund, which supports districts implementing CLASS-like work. It also funds K-12 educator mentoring and school leadership efforts. But it stops short of investing in other vital areas of the educator continuum, namely improving teacher preparation programs and implementing new teacher and principal evaluation systems. These efforts are currently underway, but without continued funding, risk poor or incomplete implementation. The statutory funding also doesn’t provide adequate supports for educators as they rework their curriculum and teaching practices to meet new state standards. For this reason, we have urged the governor to fully fund the Network with $55 million. We intend to work with him and our state legislators to attain this goal.
Every Oregon student deserves a great teacher. If we are to deliver on the promise of a high-quality education for all our students, there must be a strong focus and investment in our educators. While this may not be a new demand or strategy, it is a proven one. Effective educators are the most important factor to ensuring the success of every student, and the success and vitality of our state. Let’s make sure we invest in their success by maintaining our commitment to educator effectiveness as one of our top priorities.
Letter to Gov. Kitzhaber regarding the proposed 2015-2017 budget
We would like to introduce Chris Chavez, a new author at ChalkBloggers.
Chris currently teachers social studies at Liberty High School, in the Hillsboro School District. Previously he was a teacher in the Woodburn School District for ten years.
I recently read Dr. Hilda Rosseli’s piece Oregon’s Educators Workforce Diversity: Still Falling Short regarding the 2014 Oregon Minority Teacher Act Status Report. As an educator of color I am, and continue to be, very conscious of the lack of diversity in education. Since the passing of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991 we have seen a growth in the number of minorities entering and completing teacher programs but, according to the report, we saw only an additional 10 minority teachers added to the workforce in 2013-2014 from the previous year. Yet according to the numbers compiled by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission in June 2014, between the public and private Oregon educational institutions we saw 221 culturally and linguistically educators complete their initial teacher licensure programs.
Even with the new proposed change under Senate Bill 755 that was recently introduced that would redefine as a minority any staff member whose first language was other than English, parity across our state would still be far from being achieved. Given the current progress of the hiring of minority educators, I support the Oregon Educator Equity Advisory Group’s assertion that parity includes a re-examination of recruitment, interviewing, and hiring practices at the district and building level.
This would mean that districts consciously, actively, and systematically recruit more minority teachers, whether Latino, African-American, Asian, women, disabled, etc. As districts and communities embrace diversity, there is a need for us to address this re-examination proactively.
The incorporation of more minority teachers plays an important role in changing the perception of minorities in society, and in all students, regardless of demographics. Especially if these teachers are hired to teach in the core subjects: science, math, English language arts, and social studies. In the case of some minority educators, we would even add the benefit of more bilingual teachers who are endorsed in core subjects, and increase our capacity to implement fully bilingual programs. Furthermore, the different perspectives and experiences of these new teachers would be an invaluable resource to our staff as teachers and as future leaders.
I am often amazed how few educators—including educators of color—are even aware of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991. To move forward, I believe the issue of parity should be part of any school improvement plan, utilize current minority teachers to recruit teachers, and, most importantly, districts recruit from their own community of graduates.
We have made great strides and I applaud the progressive steps we have taken. Parity is just another step in our long journey as a society and toward our goal to provide the best and most equitable education possible for all students.
Last month, the Distinguished Leaders Council (DLC) released its report and recommendations for improving school leadership in Oregon. Recognizing the urgent need, and grounded in the recommendations from the DLC, Chalkboard Project is partnering with the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington to launch a program aimed at building districts’ capacity to develop effective principals. The program’s goal—designed for current central office leaders who have supervisory roles with principals—is to strengthen central office administrators knowledge and skills in the leadership practices that ultimately drive significant gains in student achievement by increasing the capacity of school principals. As the DLC noted, principal supervisors who prioritize instructional leadership, emotional intelligence, and student-centered accountability are ultimately better able to support principal performance. I’m pleased to say that we are now accepting applications for the first cohort, due back to Chalkboard on October 30.
A hallmark of effective school principals is that they find a way to prioritize instructional leadership over traditional administrative tasks. While no two schools operate exactly alike, in my experience a common trait in schools led by highly effective principals is that they empower leadership at all levels of the organization, which allows them to focus more deeply on improving student achievement.
Through coaching teachers in the classroom, working with teachers and staff to respond to formative assessment data, and managing human capital, principals become a key lever in school improvement. Effective principals are highly visible in their schools. They provide useful feedback and ensure high-quality professional development resulting in strong school cultures of support, trust, and continuous improvement. They lead through an equity lens to develop and advance culturally responsive practices and close achievement and opportunity gaps.
Yet for many principals, the seemingly endless number of administrative tasks can often overwhelm their best intentions to devote significant time to instructional leadership. It can feel like a trap. As a former principal, I can attest first hand to the challenges of juggling administrative tasks with finding time for instructional leadership. I knew both sides of the job were critically important to the success of my school and both placed large demands on my time. I was often left having to, in the words of Kim Marshall “attend to the urgent at the expense of the important.” And, often I fell short.
Part of running a successful school, I learned, required enlisting leaders at all levels of the district. Slowly, and with lots of help from my amazing staff, I learned how to build a culture of trust that created the conditions and expectation that our staff (and students!) could take ownership for many facets of our daily operations. This allowed me to shift how I spent my time and gave me the time I needed to support educators to do their best work.
We’ve known for a long time that school leadership matters. After educators, effective principals have a significant impact on student achievement. Helping central office supervisors to create the conditions that lead schools to new levels of student achievement can only happen with an intentional focus on leadership, and because district leaders have been given training, support, and experiences that deepen their knowledge and skills. I’m excited to see this work take shape.
Photo: Official release of the Distinguished Leaders
Council report and recommendations,
September 17, 2014.
In the spring of 2012, I worked with Chalkboard Project to form the Distinguished Educators Council (DEC). Chalkboard’s idea was to convene a team of educators recognized for their teaching excellence. The goal was to bring them together at meetings to discuss current issues important to teachers, and engage them in amplifying teachers’ voices in Oregon’s education policy-making arena.
Thirty-four distinguished teachers applied to be part of the new council, and after a thorough and thoughtful review process thirteen were invited to join. Through my role as an advisor and facilitator, I maintained that Chalkboard was asking the DEC for one important thing—ideas to support and strengthen teaching in Oregon.
After five months of reading and discussion, the council adopted five research-based recommendations to help teachers. The recommendations centered on teacher preparation, evaluation, professional learning, leadership opportunities, and supporting all students. The council’s full report is on Chalkboard’s website.
From fall of 2012 to spring of 2013, the council shared their ideas with policy-making bodies, which included the State Board of Education, the Oregon Education Investment Board, and the Oregon Legislature. And, the council was thrilled to see the legislature form the Network for Quality Teaching and Learning, a new OEIB-initiative that reflects the council’s recommendations.
The council spent last summer discussing over 50 concrete ideas for making their five core recommendations realities, and narrowed those ideas to two areas of focus – support for cooperating teachers working with new teacher candidates, and providing teachers time for collaboration and professional learning. Since then, the council has been researching and considering these topics in depth, and they are excited to advocate specific ideas to policy-makers in the coming months.
When the council first convened I wondered if these teachers trusted the sincerity of Chalkboard’s charge, to generate ideas to support and strengthen teaching in Oregon, and were they assured that Chalkboard was not simply looking for a rubber-stamp of its own agenda? Yet in the fall of 2012, I read comments from the DEC council about their participation that expressed how invigorated and empowered they were by this work, and several called it the most meaningful professional development experience of their careers.
Which brings us to the present. I’m excited to continue to work with the Distinguished Educators Council and engage teachers directly in Oregon’s education policy-making process. And I am excited to announce that Chalkboard Project is now accepting applications from teachers to join the Distinguished Educators Council. You can find details and an application form at this website.