Student Success Committee listens to business leaders, school board members and others
Baker Technical Institute President Doug Dalton shows Rep. Diego Hernandez, a member of the student success committee and the Reynolds School Board, how to operate a heavy-equipment simulator. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Eastern Oregon business leaders told state legislators Tuesday that schools should better prepare students for work through vocational programs and social-emotional development. At the same time, they expressed reluctance to spend more money on education.
The Joint Interim Committee on Student Success opened its second trip, to Baker City, with a meeting just for business representatives. Again, revenue questions confronted legislators: How much is enough and where should it be spent?
The committee is trying to create a plan to adequately fund K-12 schools while improving public education. It has scheduled a series of stops around Oregon to meet students, talk to community leaders, tour school facilities and listen to public comment.
Among the day’s stops, the Baker School District showed off Baker Technical Institute, its innovative career and technical education program that partners with businesses to train students for local jobs. In many cases, students get certification for free in the same facilities where community members pay for training.
Business representatives praised the training for jobs that don’t require college and said they would like to see it expanded. They recommended starting career and technical education sooner to engage more students before they start to slip away. They also want high school CTE classes more integrated with community college training.
At an educator roundtable and a public hearing, area community representatives voiced a high interest in more early learning programs. The region’s high poverty rates correlate with many students starting school unprepared. Education advocates want to help parents as well as children.
Schools, often the hubs of small town social life, increasingly serve far more than students’ academic needs. Schools connect low-income families with social services and provide meals, child care and other family supports.
“Schools are where we touch the most people,” said Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland), the committee’s co-chair.
Legislators pointed out that they had little control over school district spending choices. Oregonians have indicated through polling that they are willing to increase taxes provided that the proceeds go to education.
Local school boards – not the state – should be setting accountability standards, said Andrew Bryan, a member of the Baker School Board and OSBA’s Legislative Policy Committee.
“It’s not about local control,” he said. “It’s about defining your local values.”
Bryan stressed that legislators need to see that although eastern Oregon districts share commonalities, each community is unique.
Kevin Cassidy, Baker board chair and OSBA board vice president, said schools have changed significantly since many legislators attended classes.
“It’s interesting to watch the legislators’ eyes light up as they see students engaging and they learn how our district is partnering,” he said.
Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), committee co-chair, agreed the trips had been eye-opening.
“There is a lot more going on in schools than anyone in our group expected,” Roblan said.
Thirteen of the 14 committee members made the trip, with only Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) absent. On Wednesday, committee members will travel to Hermiston, Irrigon and Pendleton for more tours and meetings. On Thursday, the committee will tour the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program in Hermiston and Arlington High School.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA