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High School Content Standards About To Get ‘Rigorous’
May 21, 2013
By Lucy Ohlsen
Oregon high school seniors of 2014 will be the first required to show three ‘essential skills’ to get their diploma. The subjects have been added one at a time – reading last year, writing this year, and math next.
Willamette High Senior Wesley Butt had a hard time with the writing requirement. It’s usually met with the standardized “OAKS” test.
“I think what was hard was more of the topics. Because I’m more of an imaginative writer. Like, I can’t do narratives about defending stuff against other stuff. But, when it comes to imagination, I can do that easy.”
Butt is in a class started this year at Willamette High School for students that didn’t pass. Teacher Misty Griesi is helping them meet the requirement with writing samples, instead of a test.
“I’m a really bad tester, I’m honest about that one. I’m bad at testing. I fidget and twitch a lot.”
Butt says he’s glad he had to learn how to write, even though his plan right now is to do spray paint art on cars.
“If I didn’t learn some of this stuff now, say I have kids and they ask me something, I would not know how to give them proper grammar or anything, and they’d be talking like me. Not really good or anything.”
Not all schools have a teacher like Ms. Griesi that can dedicate an entire class to passing the requirements. The tests are much less labor intensive than the writing samples.
“We’re talking 80 students, and they had to write an essay every month. Basically I was scoring 160 essays a month for the first semester.”
In addition to the three essential skills requirements, next year is also the first that Oregon will officially follow national ‘common core’ standards.
Video: “For decades, we’ve been debating how to improve schools in the United States. This has been born from a realization that, in an ever-changing world, our students need better knowledge and tools to prepare them to compete in a global economy. In math, science, and reading, our students haven’t been keeping pace with their most advanced international peers.”
This is from a video by the Hunt Institute, explaining common core.
Video: “Thanks to the unprecedented collaboration among states, young people, regardless of their background or where they live , will be taught to standards, that once mastered, will have prepared them for college and career success.”
The standards are extremely long and complicated – laying out broad standards for every subject and grade level. They hope to ensure that students learn on a cohesive path – slowly moving up from addition to algebra, and from reading Clifford to The Great Gatsby.
The goal is for state and national standards to align and overlap, so students are career or college ready. Eventually essential skills and common core will be measured together. Misty Griesi, Wesley Butt’s teacher, says though the changes are stressful, they’re a good thing.
“Our writing scores have gone up just because we’ve changed instruction around meeting the common core standards.”
Griesi says at Willamette, the new standards have made the English department talk more to each other about making sure what they are teaching makes sense as students move through school.
“They’ll use different terminology. And so the kids are like, I don’t know what a draft is. I call it a sloppy copy or something.”
Common core standards don’t even have their own test yet, but there is a worry that with national standardization of content, teachers will end up ‘teaching to a test’.
Griesi’s class could be called “Writing To Pass The Standards”, but she argues that’s not a bad thing.
“I don’t think its necessarily ‘teaching to the test’ that everyone worries about. They’re just skills that they should know in general.”
Andrew Wendt graduated from Thurston High School last year. He didn’t pass the writing test, but he graduated before it was required.
“I feel like I never really learned how to properly write in school. All of the time in school that was put towards math and reading I felt like we didn’t spend a lot of time on writing.”
Wendt wouldn’t get rid of the tests, but he doesn’t think they should be required to graduate.
“I feel like the things that are on the tests are things that CEOs of businesses don’t even know sometimes. I don’t think that they’re relevant to being successful in life.”
Wendt is now studying engineering at Lane, and he plans to work for a race car engine design company in London.
Future high school graduates have a lot to worry about. Common core, Essential Skills, normal credit requirements. Teachers are facing dwindling funding and new content standards. Students like senior Tabatha De Herrera are powering through anyway.
“My mom, she has five kids, and she’s never seen one of her kids walk at graduation. So I want to be the first out of all of her kids to walk.”
De Herrera was in Misty Griesi’s class, so she’s met the essential skills. She’ll graduate in just a few weeks.
As part of the PacificSource Healthy Life Schools Challenge in Bethel andSpringfield, we held an essay contest where elementary school students could answer the question, “What helps you live a healthy life?” After reading through hundreds of incredible essays, one stood above the rest.
Congratulations to our winner, Mariya Dolph from Clear Lake Elementary School. Check out her healthy ideas and see why she was our winner!
Willamette’s annual community-wide Recycling Roundup collected more than nine tons of recyclable electronics and other household items. Willamette is one of only two Premier Level Green High Schools in Oregon. Projects like this make us a premier level school!
Each week I try to share another interesting tidbit about Bethel School District. The facts show up on the BethelBlog and as a tagline on my email signature. To see the archive, click here. If you have a Bethel Fact to share, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mindy LeRoux has been selected as the next principal at Willamette.
The Willamette Principal Interview Committee was made up of students, parents, staff, and school board members. The committee chose to send just one candidate to me as a finalist for the position, and I could not agree more with their decision. Mindy brings a number of great attributes to our flagship school:
- She is passionate about Willamette High School’s students, staff, and community.
- She is dedicated to the district and as a 13-year employee with varied professional experiences and a deep knowledge of our Bethel systems and processes.
- She is committed.
- She is collaborative.
- She is a listener.
- She is a problem-solver.
- She is a courageous leader.
During this year Mindy was given a difficult assignment splitting her duties between Wil-Hi and her other district duties. After just a few weeks her allegiance and commitment aligned with Willamette’s students and staff, they won her over.
I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Willamette’s first female principal. I know she will work side-by-side with staff to accomplish the challenging work that lies ahead.
Together we will reach, teach, and inspire each student to excellence
The 2008 recession has taken a heavy toll on Oregon’s schools. According to the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA), over the last four years our school districts have seen double-digit percentage decreases in teacher positions causing class sizes to increase 20-30% in Oregon. Across the state, districts have spent down their reserves and employees have taken salary and benefit reductions – yet cuts still had to be made that impacted services for students. Oregon has yet to fully bounce back from this fiscal adversity. While the private sector is now seeing some signs of recovery in both job growth and real estate transactions, the public sector is still heavily impacted. The 2013-14 budget for Bethel School District will see a continuation of employee concessions on wages, a reduced calendar, and thoughtful use of one-time funds.
This economic crisis has also had a considerable impact on our District’s families. Over the last four years the local unemployment rate has fluctuated between 10-12%. However in March, Lane County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 8.2%, still above the national rate of 7.6%. Over this school year, our staff members continue hear from students, parents, and co-workers who have lost their homes, are moving out of the area to seek employment, or are combining households to make ends meet. The recession has resulted in lost work hours, reduced wages, and job loss for many of the families we serve and also some of those we employ. This economic situation has increased the need for our free and reduced price meal programs. Prior to the recession the percentage of our population participating in this program was about 50%, we are now over 60%; this is an increase of more 600 students facing poverty. It is clear many of our families are still hurting economically; so far this school year we provided specialized services to more than 300 homeless youth.
This statewide decline in income has, in turn, impacted revenue for public services, including Bethel School District. As unemployment levels remain high and income for our citizenry is reduced, state income tax revenue continues to be diminished and as a result state funding to schools remains inadequate. The District continues, for a fourth year running, to experience a slight decline in enrollment which reduces revenue.
In 2008-09 the District was forced to decrease budget expenditures by about $1.1 million mid-year. At that time we were able to avoid cuts that impacted students directly. In 2009-10 the District planned for a $9 million dollar adjustment to its budget. This included reductions to staffing and supplies at all levels, use of Federal Stimulus dollars, and a series of employee concessions including up to 12 furlough days for students and staff.
In January 2010, Oregon voters passed ballot measures that generated about $560 million in state revenue. This, combined with legislative action to secure additional state reserve funds for K-12 schools, had a positive impact on Bethel: 10 cut school days were restored to the 2009-10 calendar. However, the 2009-10 school year still saw a shortfall of $7.4 million compared to the amount needed to maintain service levels. In 2010-11 the District faced a $5.1 million deficit to maintain current service levels. The solution once again came from employee concessions, cut school days, Federal Stimulus funds, and reductions in some services and supplies. 2011-12 brought increased costs for the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and our deficit increased to $6.2 million. For 2011-12 the solution came from employee concessions, cut school days, state stimulus funds (one time School Year Subaccount dollars), and further reductions in services and supplies. Last year the District’s shortfall exceeded $5.5 million dollars. Throughout the recession the District has made reductions to reserve funds, limiting its ability to purchase updated technology, textbooks, furnishings, and properly maintain its facilities. The District has spent down its savings and other one-time funds provided through State and Federal programs. The District has made cuts in custodial and transportation services and reduced purchasing of materials. In the 2012-13 budget, the District was forced to make reductions that significantly impacted the staffing ratio and increased class sizes at all of our schools. The budget reduced teaching, administrative, and classified staffing levels. The licensed staffing ratio reached unprecedented levels by adding 3.9 students per staff member in the ratio.
In spite of reductions over the last few years, the District has still garnered great success with continued improvements in literacy instruction; implementation of innovative math programs at elementary and new math programs at middle school levels; partnerships with local agencies to provide tutoring services; grants to deliver new instruction at the high school level; a new pre-kindergarten program; initiatives to fight childhood obesity; improvements to parent access to student information; advances in providing healthy local foods to our students; new teacher and administrator growth and evaluation processes; the opening of a school-based health center; new educational enhancement grants and school beautification efforts through the Bethel Education Foundation; an active and effective College and Career Center that is successfully attaining more scholarships and support for high school students; and the list goes on. These projects are a testament to the giving heart of our staff and community. The Bethel family wants the very best for its kids and is seeking out opportunities to do just that. Because of these efforts our students thrive in a number of ways: With statewide achievements in softball, basketball, swimming, golf, chess, DECA, FBLA, OBOB, cheerleading, music, culinary arts, math, and more. With the support of Bethel programs and staff, our children are not only reaching for excellence, they are achieving it.
The planning, input, cooperation, and careful consideration that has gone into the development of this 2013-14 Proposed Budget has been a continuation of efforts to seek increased revenue and savings over the last several years. The efforts have resulted in a budget which will not entirely meet the needs of our students. The Oregon Legislature is still in session as this budget is being considered. The budget will be based on a State School Fund of $6.55 billion. However, this will not be enough revenue to return the District to pre-recession compensation, supply, staffing, and program levels.
The 2013-14 budget does not include adequate revenue to meet the all needs of all our students; especially in light of the increasing state diploma requirements. To put a clear picture on how this decreased level of funding will impact services, I will turn to Oregon’s Quality Education Model (QEM). The QEM is a regularly updated bipartisan study that determines the level of funding required to ensure that 90% of Oregon’s students reach the state standards and are able to earn a New Oregon Diploma. The QEM includes recommendations on class size, technology, counselor ratios, and much more. In order to fund schools at the QEM level for the 2011-13 biennium, the legislature would have to allocate $8.75 billion for K-12 education. Currently, Oregon schools are funded at nearly $5.7 billion; that is $2.95 billion short of QEM recommendations. This is more than 30% shy of what the QEM says is required for student success.
Developing a Proposed Budget at this revenue level has required making difficult choices around compensation, staffing reductions, supply and service reductions, and consideration of the use of reserves and ending fund balance dollars. It required the utilization of an ongoing, inclusive and thorough process for budget development involving many contributors. It began with regular information sharing and input gathering, beginning as far back as November 2008. It included the processing of goals, reductions, and creative cost-saving ideas in small and large groups with diverse representation. It included consideration of more than 250 cost saving suggestions brought forth by parents, community members, employees, and students. It included thoughtful, time-consuming deliberation by administrators and cooperative, forthright, and dutiful bargaining with all our employee groups. This included meeting and deliberating budget options with the Long-Term Budget Planning Committee, a group representing a cross section of the community and district staff. This committee helped to create criteria with which to make future budget addition and reduction decisions. The entire process culminated in the Proposed Budget presented here.
The 2013-14 Proposed Budget is a mix of sustained reductions made over the last four years, continued use of reserves and one-time funds, reduced school days, and continued employee concessions. This budget also shows an increase of more than $1.5 million in PERS costs over the last biennium, a cost which the District has no control over. There is a glimmer of hope that the Oregon Legislature will find a way to deliver more than the $6.55 billion in State School Fund dollars and/or deliver meaningful reductions in the PERS increases assumed in this budget.
This budget relies on employee concessions to minimize the impact on programs and class sizes. At the time this message is presented employee concession talks are still underway. Considerations are being made to continue to reduce employee costs to the District. Cost of living and seniority step pay increases, insurance increases, and a continuation of 10-13.4 unpaid furlough days have all been discussed. Students have lost a total of 24 ½ school days since the 2009-10 school year. A loss of school days may continue in 2013-14; however agreements are in place to restore school days and impact class size if the legislature increases revenue or decreases costs for Oregon’s school districts. The loss of days makes it difficult to provide necessary instructional time to help students meet essential skill levels now required to earn an Oregon Diploma.
The District has negotiated aggressively to minimize increases in contracted services. An example of this is decreasing contracted custodial services to save $85,000 last year and for 2013-14. The District continues to review all education options and shift ESD programs that can be managed in a more cost-efficient manner to Bethel. This frees ESD funds to be used in new ways to support the District. As a result this year additional dollars and services will again be directed to Cascade Middle School, which became a mandatory Title program due to an increase in the number of its students living in poverty. This shift in ESD dollars also spares the District from thinning Title I services across the elementary programs due to the inclusion of Cascade and federal funding reductions from sequestration cuts.
Each element going into this year’s budget is designed to help the District reduce costs and maximize revenue while keeping this agreed upon budgeting philosophy and its accompanying priorities at the forefront:
The quantity and quality of programs offered by Bethel School District are related to both the amount of funding provided as well as the effective and efficient management of those funds.
To maximize the benefit to our community’s children the District must continue its effort to cultivate strong relationships with and between students, parents, staff, and community members in local fiscal decision making. In optimizing those funds for the benefit of the students, the District will strive to:
Maximize the positive impact on classroom instruction, instructional support, readiness to learn, and efforts to increase student achievement and engagement so that all students make progress toward meeting state standards, District goals, and personal aspirations.
Protect, maintain, and enhance the community’s investment in our facilities, physical spaces, equipment, and other assets.
Prepare for both short and long-term fiscal responsibilities including: labor agreements, reserves, fund balance, planning for current and future mandates and community needs, and by investing in the sustainable growth of new and existing efficient and effective programs.
If the Budget Committee opts to suggest changes to the Proposed Budget, I believe it is important to keep these priorities at the forefront of decision making. The priorities were developed by the Long-Term Budget Planning Committee and adopted by the Board. Additionally, the Long-Term Budget Committee offered this guidance in the development of the budget:
- Invest in our people, our professionals…they make the difference in meeting student needs
- Our students need more time learning…strive to add back lost school days
- Some students need more to succeed…protect and enhance programs for struggling students
It is also important to carefully reflect on the interplay of elements used to balance this budget if any changes to the Proposed Budget are to be enacted. A change in one area of this budget will have consequences on the feasibility of other portions of the document.
Sustainability is a key factor in the development of any budget, even one with declining revenue. The district has faced budget sustainability issues from the onset of the recession. These have included declining state revenue, increasing personnel costs, short-term federal and state funding, and use of District reserve funds. The Proposed Budget continues to employ some unsustainable tools to achieve a balance. Employee concessions and reserves (the Ending Fund Balance and one-time SSF dollars) will be used to offset the deficit.
Employee concessions have had a significant and beneficial impact on the district’s budget for five years running. However, they do not constitute a sustainable solution. They help address issues for a single year at a time, then previous employee agreements fall back into place. Yearly negotiations are taking their toll on all parties involved. Our staff members have been incredibly patient and understanding through this economic downturn. I look forward to the day when we are able to fully meet our collective bargaining agreements and appropriately compensate a very hard working and deserving staff.
I will conclude by sharing my high level of gratitude toward the staff of Bethel School District. Even under some of the most difficult circumstances, I continue to witness incredible dedication to mission. I regularly see staff willingly sacrifice to go the extra mile for students. Bethel School District is all about the kids. Even with the reductions sustained over the last two biennia, our student achievement has continued to rise because of the caliber of our staff. I remain humbled by our staff and our community, and I am proud to be a part of this family. Even though circumstances over the last several years have made this effort exceedingly difficult, my goal is to guide us thoughtfully through the economic crisis and successfully put us on the path to financial stability and great student success.
This message will be delivered publicly and further discussion may take place at our Budget Meeting on May 13, 2013. Then, on May 16 the Budget Committee will reconvene to hear presentations on the administration, special education, individual schools, and “all schools” portions of the budget. May 16 also offers the first opportunity for Budget Committee approval of a 2013-14 budget for Bethel School District. To the Budget Committee, thank you for your willingness to serve the Bethel School District and its community; we look forward to your questions and guidance as we move toward approval and adoption of this budget for 2013-14.