OSBA recently asked eastern and southern Oregon school board members for their thoughts on education in the state.
Over and over again, their answers turned to student and staff concerns, but they said those needs might look different in their areas than in the western part of the state. Whether it was workforce shortages or closing achievement gaps, “local control” is the watchword.
OSBA replaced its traditional Fall Regionals with a series of listening sessions in October. OSBA Board members, executives and department heads attended seven sessions in eastern and southern Oregon. The board heard a report Friday night.
“It was a nice opportunity to see in a tangible form, in writing, the kinds of issues that are front and center for boards,” said OSBA Board President-elect Scott Rogers, the Athena-Weston School Board chair.
He said he is looking forward to hearing from the rest of the state as OSBA uses the information to figure out how it can best support its members. OSBA plans to visit the rest of the state in the spring.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel also said she is eager to continue the sessions to better understand membership’s needs and goals.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” she said. “We heard a lot of ‘We want our local control back.’”
Sattenspiel said the report would be part of a meeting in January between school board members and Gov. Kate Brown. Sattenspiel would like to create more opportunities for school board members to communicate with Salem.
“I’m working on elevating voices across the state,” she said.
OSBA representatives, led by Executive Director Jim Green, talked to 165 board members, superintendents and administrators from 45 school districts and seven education service districts in the Fall Listening Sessions.
The sessions centered on the same four questions about challenges, lessons learned, support needed and achievement gaps.
The COVID-19 pandemic wove through the answers, from the stresses on staff and students to the need for more local control so that school boards could better answer to their communities’ demands.
Board members and administrators pointed to some regional needs, including more in-person local training from OSBA. They also suggested more orientation training and mentorships for new board members.
They said issues such as the widespread school workforce shortages are compounded in rural areas, where it’s hard to compete with bigger city salaries. State-required reporting continues to be an issue for small schools with few staff members.
Local leaders also would like to see their equity work better recognized, and they said equity discussions should include helping low-income students and overcoming the digital limitations in rural areas. At the same time, they would like more training on equity and helping low-income students.