OSBA convention keeps student needs at its center despite social distancing
Monday, November 16, 2020
The virtual OSBA 74th Annual Convention included recognition of School Board Member of the Year Alicia Hays of the Eugene School District, Superintendent of the Year Christy Perry of Salem-Keizer Public Schools and Teacher of the Year Nicole Butler-Hooton of the Bethel School District.
Comparisons between Saturday’s OSBA Annual Convention and last year’s were inevitable.
In 2019, education advocates were elated, celebrating the Student Success Act and the financial stability it would bring to schools. In 2020, educators were discussing coronavirus metrics, distance learning and Gov. Kate Brown’s order to shut down much of the state.
Nearly 400 school board members, administrators and education advocates showed up in the online conference to learn, to share, to be inspired, and to be called to action.
“The one thing I have been able to say to folks is I know these are tough and challenging times, but we are up for it,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green during the opening session.
The virtual OSBA 74th Annual Convention delivered some of the same experiences school board members have come to expect from the traditional gathering in downtown Portland. The Pathable online meeting platform offered breakout rooms for topic discussions, regional roundtables, and opportunities to meet with OSBA staff and fellow attendees as well as workshops and presentations. Sessions were recorded and are available on the OSBA website to attendees for one year.
Participants could choose from among more than a dozen workshops, some of which focused on diversity and equity. Race-related issues have pushed to the forefront of school concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement and the inherent inequalities of distance learning.
Guest speaker Bryant Marks tackled bias head on during the morning session. Marks, founder of the National Training Institute on Race and Equity, reassured people that implicit bias is a natural part of the human condition but said people in positions of responsibility had a duty to understand their biases and raise equity issues.
Marks told the audience that equity work involves awkward, uncomfortable, messy and tough conversations but they must do it anyway.
“Raise the equity questions regardless of who is in the room,” he said.
The students are the reason most school board members give so much of their time, and OSBA gave the screen to four young people for the closing session.
Alexa Castanon of Umatilla, Gia Faith of Coquille, Nonso Agum of David Douglas and Treyson Smith of Sweet Home spoke powerfully about distance learning, equity and race, and social and emotional needs.
Faith asked school leaders “to investigate and open your ears” to make things better for students of color.
“Every student has the right to feel safe and protected in their classroom because if they are not feeling safe and protected, they are not learning as they should be,” Faith said.