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Oregon schools are putting finishing touches on Student Success Act plans
The Lake Oswego School Board received a thick report Monday night laying out the district’s Student Success Act work. Board Chair Rob Wagner, (center) a state senator, said it was exciting to see the resources allocated by the Legislature being put into action. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Lake Oswego School District staff presented a 118-page report to the school board Monday night on its Student Success Act plan, complete with color-coded pages and tabs.
John Wallin, a board member for the district south of Portland, openly wondered how districts without their staff and resources were managing the law’s requirements.
With a lot of help, a lot of collaboration and a lot of hard work and late nights, say school leaders around the state.
The process has led to similar conclusions, with mental and behavioral supports at the top of many grant lists. District plans focus on increasing staff in schools, from teachers to support personnel; improving core subject instruction with teacher training and new curriculums; and adding programs that contribute to a well-rounded education, such as arts and extracurricular choices.
Months of community engagement and data analysis are coming to a head as districts prepare to apply for their shares of nearly $500 million a year in Student Investment Account grants. The Oregon Department of Education will begin accepting applications March 2, and the deadline is April 15.
The act requires public review and school board approval before a district can submit its grant application.
The Vale School Board approved its plan Feb. 12, getting ahead of the curve.
Leaders in the far eastern Oregon district say the OSBA Promise Scholarship board development program, now called the Diane Efseaff Memorial Scholarship Program, helped them crystalize their goals before the act passed.
“We found our priorities in our district aligned very closely with the intent of the law,” said Superintendent Alisha McBride.
The law allows investment in any of four areas: reducing class size, well-rounded education, instructional time, and health and safety. All initiatives must be used to meet students’ mental and behavioral needs and to increase academic achievement while reducing academic disparities.
The act emphasizes help for historically underserved populations. Administrators expect most programs targeted to help their underserved student groups, such as additional after-school programs or tutoring, will have wide benefits.
Vale’s plan lists 13 initiatives, including hiring a full-time counselor, offering training on trauma-informed practices, adding math interventionists and teacher development, and restoring music and art programs.
McBride said Vale started with big goals. Student, staff and community surveys that ranked possible initiatives helped sort out key themes.
District leaders already wanted to offer more mental health supports, and the surveys emphasized the need. The surveys also elevated the community’s desire to restore music education.
The Vale plan includes backup ideas in case it can’t hire the necessary people. District leaders know that most districts will want to add staff. Districts, especially ones away from population centers, are already having difficulty filling positions. Those pressures will increase with the compressed time frame between application approvals this spring and the beginning of the next school year.
North Bend School District’s draft plan also has backup spending initiatives, such as new curriculum and training, if it can’t fill positions, such as a nurse and a librarian.
The coastal district is still gathering community input, but staff presented a draft plan to the school board Monday night. Board Chair Julianna Seldon is excited about the possibilities.
“We are all cautiously over the moon,” she said.
Canby School District also expects that finding counselors, specialists and other staff will be one of its biggest challenges, especially bilingual candidates and candidates of color.
The district, between Portland and Salem, is recruiting staff members who might want to become teachers to keep them in its system, according to Ivonne Dibblee, director of teaching and learning. Many rural districts are considering “grow your own” efforts.
Canby’s Student Success Act web page includes feedback summaries, an equity brief, district goals and a record of committee prioritization voting. Superintendent Trip Goodall said the process had prompted extra efforts to reach out to families and students the district had not communicated with well in the past.
“We are seeing a level of engagement we haven’t seen before with regard to how funding is being allocated,” Goodall said.
Starting in the fall, districts reached out to students, staff and parents through surveys, meetings and targeted communications. Building on initial communications, districts have shared draft grant applications with their communities to refine their plans.
Larger districts have staff teams to tackle the meeting logistics and data compilation. In smaller districts, much of the burden has fallen on administrators and staff, but the act also gave money to ODE and education service districts to provide support.
Clatskanie Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz said Northwest Regional ESD was instrumental in facilitating meetings and drilling into surveys.
“At the beginning of this whole process, I didn’t even know what I needed,” Hurowitz said. “Although it is a lot of work, it has been really focusing where we need to go.”
Lake Oswego parents, like many around the state, wanted smaller class sizes. But when administrators showed them the cost to lower all class sizes by just one student, parents said that was not the best use of the money. Instead the district plans to lower class sizes by four students in kindergarten and first, sixth and ninth grades, transitional times when students sometimes need extra support.
At the Lake Oswego meeting, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele acknowledged the collaborative effort required. Some unrelated work had to be shifted to the backburner while the act’s demands took priority. Going forward, she said, there needs to be consideration of the staff time still required.
She praised the act, though, for its local flexibility, pushing schools to apply new solutions to old problems.
“It has made us re-examine and listen to other voices,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA