Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus members discuss new school year challenges and aspirations
Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus members gathered at the July OSBA Summer Board Conference in Bend as they readied for the new school year. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Oregon students headed back to school this week and last. Although students are just cracking their books, school leaders and communities have already been studying up on the issues facing their students.
Members of the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus, OSBA’s only stand-alone caucus, have been looking at issues that, although universal, can sometimes hit communities of color especially hard.
Bill Graupp, a 14-year school board veteran, is focused on how the hidden costs of school, especially the back-to-school time of year, can have unintended negative effects for participation, specifically among students from traditionally underserved communities.
“The beginning of the year is when money really flows,” said Graupp, Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus president and North Marion School Board member.
Sports and academic enrichment opportunities cost money, but some communities are not ready for that cost. If they are new to the area, they also may not know how to communicate with the district to find solutions.
Graupp said his district is focused on making sure all students have access to extracurricular activities. He encourages school leaders to reach out to parents and communities and help them understand what supports are available.
Sonja Mckenzie, elected to the Parkrose School Board in 2017 and recently appointed to the OSBA Board, shares similar concerns.
“This is an aspirational time,” she said, “but there’s always challenges at the start of the year, new clothes, new tennis shoes.”
Those costs can feel especially burdensome in a district like Parkrose, where steep increases in housing costs are shaping the district.
“We’re losing a lot of young families,” Mckenzie said.
She said district data showed students of color aren’t achieving at the levels they should and the district needs to respond.
“I know that equity conversations can be uncomfortable,” Mckenzie said. “But equity really isn’t about taking away from anyone. It’s about giving everyone what they need.”
Libra Forde, elected to her first full term on the North Clackamas School Board in May, has also been thinking about community engagement.
School districts are a “crossroad of opportunity” to reach different communities, she said.
Building bridges and communication channels, especially for the multiple cities within her district, is one of Forde’s priorities. She said she also wants to use Student Success Act funds to rebuild programs that were powerful but were cut after the 2008 recession, such as music, art and physical education.
Libre spoke of making schools locations of "comfort and welcome."
Sahar Yarjani Muranovic, a new David Douglas School Board member, is focusing on student safety, especially for communities feeling threatened by the current political environment.
Citing recent Portland demonstrations, she said students and families in her diverse community must think about safety and security more deliberately than in the past.
Muranovic said community outreach and re-investing in extracurricular activities are crucial because of the benefit of an educated, engaged community.
“Education is for students and families,” she said.
Muranovic said this school year would be about equity in many forms.
Helen Ying, Multnomah Education Service District Board chair and caucus secretary, is looking at how her ESD can help put equity practices in focus.
Ying said she is excited about the Student Success Act as well as other equity-related developments, such as the finalization of the ethnic studies curriculum. Oregon is a national leader in this area.
Ying wants to put policies in motion that focus on the needs of the constituent districts and student populations. For example, how can an ESD better serve a population such as incarcerated students?
“How can we get staff in front of those students that the students can relate to?” she asked. “Everything we talk about is geared toward our goal of all our students achieving excellence.”
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist