School board members celebrate opportunity to change Oregon education
Monday, November 18, 2019
OSBA celebrated the passage of the historic Student Success Act with a balloon drop Saturday at OSBA’s 73rd Annual Convention in Portland. (Photo by Moriah Ratner, Blue Chalk Media)
OSBA’s 73rd Annual Convention crackled with the energy at the nexus of celebrating the Student Success Act and buckling down to the important work ahead.
There were balloons and dancing and whoops of joy, but there were also hard conversations about what school districts need to do now.
About 700 school district, charter school and community college board members; district staff and administrators; and education advocates registered for the Nov. 14-17 preconferences and conference at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront hotel.
The event offered more than 50 workshops on school board issues, as well as networking, inspiration and resources. Attendees applauded Oregon School Board Member of the Year Merle Comfort (La Grande SD and InterMountain ESD), Oregon Superintendent of the Year Gustavo Balderas (Eugene SD), and Oregon Teacher of the Year Mercedes Muñoz (Portland PS).
OSBA shared “The Road to the Student Success Act,” a video showcasing OSBA staff and school board members’ hard work to achieve long-sought revenue reform. OSBA honored Sens. Arnie Roblan and Mark Hass and Reps. Barbara Smith Warner and Nancy Nathanson for their leadership in passing the legislation.
The act’s themes of equity, student achievement and behavioral health often even threaded through sessions and workshops not directly tied to the act’s implementation.
The act will provide $2 billion per budget period for preK-12 public education. OSBA Executive Director Jim Green emphasized the Legislature’s bold step: $2 billion in new tax collections.
“That’s an amazing feat, and we all did it,” Green said.
The possibilities and the responsibilities could shape Oregon for decades.
During a Saturday workshop, Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe encouraged schools to partner with community members and groups to offer new experiences for students.
Umatilla is a small town in the eastern Columbia River Gorge with high poverty rates. Through programs such as robotics and after-school enrichment that fit with the act’s ideals, the schools are “helping kids dream bigger dreams,” Sipe said.
“If you don’t have the capacity to start off big, don’t start off big. Just start,” Sipe said.
School leaders were also reminded that they will be accountable to the Legislature and the public for how they spend the new money. School leaders will need to show who they engaged, how they engaged them and what they learned, according to Meg Boyd, strategic communications analyst for the Oregon Department of Education. She presented at a Friday workshop.
ODE will offer more application guidance in early December as well as district estimates of the act’s Student Investment Account grants. The application window will open March 2-April 15. Scott Nine, assistant superintendent of ODE’s new Office of Education Innovation and Improvement, said districts must apply to receive the grants but ODE would work with districts until they had their applications right.
“We have the chance to demonstrate what public education can be,” Nine said at the Capitol Watch breakfast session. “We’re only at a turning point if we turn.”
Nine reminded school board members that it is not their responsibility to do the application work – that work belongs to district staff. Rather, board members must be informed and ask good questions to shape the work’s direction, he said.
Convention speakers and presenters asked school board members to confront their biases and blind spots, to see students who have been stereotyped or overlooked.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind shared during the Saturday general session the moving story of how his family connected through Disney movies with his son who has autism. The lessons from his son’s education journey have helped countless others.
Although school funding is always an issue, Suskind reminded attendees why they work so hard to reach every student.
“We don’t put a price tag on knowledge,” he said. “It’s the greatest gift we can give.”