Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fire Drills, Earthquake Drills, Active Shooter Drills for students

The events this past week at Umpqua Community College again remind us that even the most terrible events can happen here in the State of Oregon. Oregon has had its fair share of these events, including the Thurston High School shootings in Springfield and the Reynolds High School shooting just two years ago.  It reminds us that we can never be too prepared.  In the North Santiam School District, our schools all conduct an active-shooter drill within the first two months of school where the local Police and Sherriff's  are our partners and observe.  In the spring we then hold a drill that is unannounced.

At the same time, schools, government agencies and cities all over  Western Oregon are now gearing up for another threat. More and more evidence has accumulated over the last decade that Oregon is about due for a large subduction-zone earthquake, which will threaten structures in Oregon west of the Cascades and likely produce large tidal waves along the Oregon Coast. The state is working on responding, but a large quake will test our buildings to the extreme, as well as our bridges, water systems, everything. Oregon Field Guide is currently showing a series on OPB entitles Unprepared: An Oregon Field Guide Special, that details some of the challenges we will face following such an event.  Here in the North Santiam School District, we conduct one earthquake drill every year, and we continue to work towards obtaining seismic grants and improve our readiness to keep students safe if an earthquake did occur. 

The district also holds fire drills monthly throughout the school year, and we are lucky to live in the boundaries of three great fire  districts.  Those drills remain important, particularly in the very dry years we have had these past two years. Their vigilance has stopped some roadside fires from becoming threats to homes and lives. This summer, my family in Canyon City and John Day spent a terrible day on August 14 as they evacuated their homes, while 42 other families had their families destroyed.

So, we must remain vigilant and continue to prepare. The Stayton Police Department and the NSSD have agreed to begin meeting to discuss all the possible events and create plans for these possibilities. If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please ask them in a comment here, or send me an e-mail directly.

Andy Gardner

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Week of School!

The first week of school is always very busy, but this year was more so with the addition of a new bus company.  Mid-Columbia Bus Company is starting their first year of providing buses to the district. We have been impressed with them and their reputation as a company, and their references all spoke of a company with a can-do reputation. We had some bumps as we got off the ground last week, and I want to apologize to those parents who had frustration with the rough start.  Mid-Co was behind the eight-ball a bit getting started, as they had no information from the prior year to work with as they built routes. Also, new bus drivers simply don't know who the kids are, so nothing came easy this week in terms of transporting kids--and we know it wasn't easy for parents. The company put in a huge number of hours over the last two weeks, and they want to get it right, and I believe they will very quickly.

The deal with the new company came with all new buses, which I believe the district sorely needed, as we were having an increasing number of breakdowns.  We also provided in this contract two extra small buses for our co-curricular trips, particularly at the high school. I stopped by the high school on Friday and watched Cross-Country Coach Erin Holm loading one of them for a trip to Tillamook for an overnight stay and Saturday run. It was great to lift some of the responsibility and burden from parents, who have generally taken the burden for getting all the kids to special events on the road.

So, please post a comment, parents and staff!  We look forward to feedback!

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessments

As the year winds down, so does the first time through the new Smarter Balanced Assessments that measure our students' performance against the Common Core Standards.  Compared with the OAKS tests that have been in place for well over a decade, this was a step up for our young people.  OAKS tests were multiple-choice, while Smarter Balanced tests had students engage in complex tasks, write out answers, and engage in testing for a far longer period of time. In the last year or so, as we prepared for the new tests, I had sat down and attempted questions off the 5th and 8th grade math tests.  The questions were challenging, certainly more so than the multiple-choice questions that were previously used for the OAKS tests.

So as I watched students this year actually working on the tests, I did so with a keen interest in how they would respond. While there were certainly some kids who had a difficult time, I found that most of the students were able to tackle the tasks.  I'm not predicting that students all achieved a high score, but I believe that they had been taught at the level of the tests they were facing. I believe that our teachers have truly used their Monday mornings well these last three years as they have worked together to get our young people prepared, and I compliment them on their work.

There are still some things I would change about the new tests if I could. First, any good teaching means there is feedback to the student.  Feedback has two characteristics that make it effective; immediacy and specificity.  Immediacy means that the sooner the feedback occurs after a student attempts something, the more meaningful and reinforcing it is. We all know this from our teachers in high school; some turned back work within a couple of days, while some didn't give us our essays for a week or more. We instinctively know that the quicker it comes back, the better.  The second characteristic is specificity, meaning that we should accurately and with precision reinforce what we want to see learned.  For the last decade, OAKS tests were scored by computer, and students in reading, math and science would know as soon as they were done with the test how well they had done--they would get a 3-digit number that would mean they Met, Exceeded, or --horrors--Did Not Meet.  The test results by question were not available, so specific feedback left something to be desired, but the overall results of a class or school could easily be calculated. With the new Smarter Balanced tests, we  now get the worst of both worlds. Students did a longer test, and the test results will not be available until the fall, with non-specific feedback. Parents should remember that we are working right now with a system that has just been built, and we are lobbying for modifications to the system that can hopefully create better feedback to students, parents and teachers.

People have asked me over the last two years how I felt about the Common Core Standards, and I have listened to great parents in our district discuss them. It causes me to reflect on what I want for my own children, now in the 5th and 8th grade. Everything in the world today foreshadows the world in which they will live and work. It will be a globally-connected economy in which they will work, and much of the work will occur over distance, where typing/writing and technical/computer skills will be incredibly important. We will compete directly against every other country in the world, and my own children will do that between 2020 (approximately) and 2055. We here in 2015 probably can't come close to envisioning the changes they will experience. But we can take the steps today, in Oregon and in the North Santiam School District, to make sure we do our best to give them every ability to compete with other nations in that coming world.

So, I am a proponent of the core. I just can't think of knowing a higher standard would be out there and we would make a conscious decision to teach to a lesser standard.  It is not perfect, the way we test it is in its infancy and will undergo some improvements, but a step away would be a step backwards.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Soccer Field Project is merely the latest in a long line of community-led projects in NSSD

As we move towards putting in the dirt and the grass to create two soccer fields in the next month, I know that there will be a few days when we will need helping hands. These will be parents and student-athletes, and perhaps a couple of organizations who might be able to have a few members lend a hand.  The work will be moved forward in a critically important way by Emery and Sons and their owner Bill Martinak.  They will give us much-needed construction expertise and, once in a while, really big pieces of equipment driven by experts.
The Foothills Church I-Serve Project is also worthy of mention. Each year for most of the last decade, Foothills members have painted countless square feet and cleaned up many areas throughout the district. These projects have saved the district thousands, and have made our grounds look nicer. 
In reality, we couldn’t think of doing these types of projects without community help. But the helping is important, because it creates ownership and pride. When students or community are able to help, pride is built, and a common cause is established. In many ways, it is as important as the physical project.
The list of large projects is long, and I am sure I am forgetting a few. But since 1990, the work has been immense.
Stayton High School Cafeteria: early 1990’s, it was a huge community project that replaced the old cafeteria, which was condemned.
Mari-Linn Playground: early 2000’s, built by community and the National Guard.
Stayton Elementary Playground and Covered Playshed: mid-2000’s, SES Parent-Teacher Club.
Sublimity School Playground: Early 2000’s, Sublimity Parent-Teacher Club
Stayton High School Baseball Field/Joe Brock Park: Mid 1990’s, Stayton High School Booster Club along with coaches Dennis Farthing and Brunk Conley; along with multiple improvements by Dale Emery and Emery and Sons.
SHS Softball Field: Late 1990’s, early 2000’s, AD Ron Wickett (dugouts) Coach Brunk Conley, (Fence); Head Coach Jay Lamb did everything else!
Stayton High School Track (1990 Version):  Holm II Construction
Stayton High School Track (2000 Version): SHS Boosters, Emery and Sons, North Santiam Paving, Jim Huddleston, Nike Bowerman Foundation

These projects and many, many more have been the result of almost constant efforts over the years. Thanks to all who contributed their time and effort. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Community Roles in the Stayton High School Pathways

You may have seen the article in Our Town about Stayton High School's new Career Pathways.  I cannot say enough about Principal Alan Kirby's work to bring these into being.  In the article,  he makes a great point about the true purpose of a pathway, which is to increase the relevance of school for the student.  An educational pathway is a clear direction, a marked path, where the way is clear for the student to go in a given direction.  Most important is the implication for the student--he or she must think, examine, and give thought to the choice.  He or she must examine his or her talents, interests, and above all think about the future.  When a whole school of young people are thinking about these things, a fundamentally powerful change in our culture will take root and grow.

For a long time, school at Stayton High School has been traditional in many ways.  We enrolled students, we informed them of the rules in the student handbook, and we let them know how many credits they needed to graduate.  In general, most of the conversations focused on the diploma, and student work was focused around the needed work to graduate.  Work experience over time had been de-emphasized as a way to get credit, and in general school connections to the community were less active and certainly less visible to kids.  This needed to change, and the creation of the pathways this year changes the environment in important and fundamental ways. Now, school work and related experiences will be organized on the idea that we are preparing students for their future roles in the community.  This inherently means our conversations are not just about what a student needs to do to graduate--we are now as a matter of course discussing what the student will do beyond high school. We also no longer can provide the necessary preparation within the building, we must now see the community as a critical element in giving the students the experiences they need to help them decide what they will do. 

With the pathways, we now increase the awareness of the true role of high school, which is to prepare students for the next step.  In doing this, we subtly, but permanently, change the fundamental assumptions about what the school's true purpose is. It no longer becomes a set of traditional tasks that students must navigate to arrive at the end, but it instead becomes a helping and facilitating entity.  This will change how we communicate and how we view opportunities to cooperate with community members.

As the school shifts to  a new philosophy, the work and tasks become more relevant, but community businesses and leaders become more necessary to guide that relevance.  Simply put, the building of high school pathways to careers or college should not be built by our high school administrators and teachers working in the vacuum of Stayton High School.  The pathways should continually be adjusted or expanded based on the input of community members from the world of work or industry.  This is already happening in the Willamette Promise, which is the college-bound pathway; our teachers work in learning communities with college instructors from 2-year and 4-year colleges to inform their work in our high school.  The exact same principle should hold with all of our pathways.  Our Health Care Occupations pathway and opportunities should be informed by the knowledge and  the needs of local professionals who provide it.   Our fabrications and construction pathway should be informed by local businesses as well.  Only by creating these partnerships can we truly connect our community employers with their future employees and give them the skills they need.

We have seen the statistics. The retirement of the "Baby Boom" generation is leaving a massive gap in the United States' work force. At the same time, we have a large number of young people who do not realize the tremendous opportunities they have.  The situation is critical, not just in Marion County but throughout the nation.  The solution that we propose at Stayton High School is to begin to do this work in earnest right here.  Young people, like all people, tend to be more aware of opportunities when they see them or experience them.  Our work, then, will be to tangibly connect them to the work that they think might interest them--to have them visit, to have business leaders come to them, to make them aware of specific and real opportunities.

Our focus right now will be to identify local business owners or representatives who would be willing to contribute to our manufacturing and construction pathway.  This post, then, is a bit of an all-call, and we would like to hear from anyone who might be willing to really engage with us on what that pathway should look like. We will be working with the Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR) to help guide us in this work and connect us with the best practices in creating the framework and expanding it over time. 

If you are interested and have knowledge or skills that you believe would help, feel free to let us know you are willing, either by calling the district office 769-6924 or the high school 769-2171.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On soccer fields, trees, our young people, and communication

We have a facility project under way in the district which has attracted a surprising amount of notice and notoriety recently.  The project at Stayton High School by which we will add a second soccer field has evoked some strong responses from some community members, including a letter to the editor of the Stayton Mail regarding the loss of the grove of oak trees which had stood along Gardner St. just north of the softball fields. The removal of those trees and the house just to the north of it give us the space to now have two soccer fields, one for our girls program (two teams) and another for our boys teams (also two teams). 

In the letter, the author had finished with the question "Is this what we are paying for with the bond?", which is the second time I've heard that, so I want to clarify that here first.  We have spent zero dollars from the bond on this project.  This is not a huge construction project, and most of the work involves removing rather than planning and building.  In addition, Emery and Sons has done a lot of the work on a donation basis. We are doing it with some odd unexpended accounts that we put together from our operations. My only wish is that we could just pay to have it done all at once, so that the public would see kids and community gathered at the field for soccer. Only then will you see why we did it, rather than on our destruction.

Our community has changed, and will continue to change. Soccer's growth at the high school is reflecting many, many years of virtually every child in the area playing soccer every fall through the YMCA youth leagues.  We made the choice to build a second soccer field knowing that it will always be in use, and that our community has a shortage of those fields. Most importantly, we made the choice to remove the trees because we felt it was good for kids. For years now, our soccer teams have shared one field with great patience. Their attitudes have been great, but one field for four teams? And of course, it goes beyond that. Soccer is also a hugely popular sport for adults in the community as well.  Is there anyone who doubts that this field will be in huge demand, not just for high school use, but community as well?  Many communities the size of Stayton have partnerships between the school city governments, through which sport fields and complexes are built that are used then by civic leagues as well as the schools.  For whatever reason, Stayton has not in the past undertaken any similar projects, although we now have great communication with the City of Stayton, and we have discussed some possible projects.  Hopefully in time we'll be able to engage in a shared project.

As for the trees... 
The district had been acquiring the property along Gardner Street for almost twenty years, in order to fill out the dimensions for a sport field.  When Mr. Kiel (owner of the house that was burned and removed this month)  sold the district the house, he knew that the lot his house was on was valuable because it sat right in the middle of the new athletic field. Sadly, the complete field required not just the removal of the house, but the trees as well. I know that no one thought that the tree removal was a positive aspect of the project; it was just that the district already owned 80% of the field.   To find another field simply was not going to happen in Stayton near the high school--and if we found one we were going to have to pay for all of it--not just the one lot.  There are people who have made comments such as "Couldn't they have put the field elsewhere?"  To that I say, "Go locate a rectangular lot with five acres and see what it costs."  Also figure in how we'll get kids there daily, how we'll water it, supervise it during begin to see the advantages of a field near the high school.

Yet the trees are a loss, there is no denying it. They were mature, and they had been there a long time. After I read the letter by Mrs. Hatten, I am now thinking about how we might incorporate tree plantings into our projects, so that in time our new fields will have stately trees situated in places that might provide shade for spectators or spring blossoms. The newly planted trees will not, perhaps, be the immediate equals of the trees that were removed, but--like the kids who will enjoy the field--their time will come.

Finally, whether you favor trees growing or students playing soccer, or if you didn't know what the school district was doing, it is only too clear that we needed to communicate better than we did.  The trees came down before the project sign went up, and many people saw trees that had been cut down but didn't know why. This is a lesson learned, and in the future we will endeavor to communicate better as to such projects.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Changes coming in the Fall for NSSD Schools!

As we look forward to the end of the 2014-15 school year, it is impossible to not be excited about the new opportunities for students that will be available in the fall. While the changes in the national and state K-12 landscape can certainly cause parents some concern, there is no doubt that some of the changes will directly benefit NSSD kids immediately.

The State of Oregon, following the lead of many other states, has worked hard over the last few years to streamline its education of students with a goal to improve educational outcomes for all of its students.  In the last four years we have begun to examine how prepared our children are to enter school, and at what level students perform as they leave our system at graduation. There is incontrovertible evidence that our system can improve, and the following two changes will assist in creating stronger outcomes across the system.

Full-Day Kindergarten begins in the fall.

This coming fall Kindergarten will be a full-day affair for NSSD students at Mari-Linn School in Lyons, Sublimity School, and Stayton Elementary.  If you have a child who will be attending Kindergarten in the fall, make sure you get in contact with the school and learn about how this program will help your youngster!

Research indicates that Full-Day Kindergarten has a substantial impact on third grade literacy. We are excited to test this in the coming years.  The North Santiam School District is proud to have one of the highest rates of 3rd Grade Reading outcomes in the Mid-Valley area, and we know that the addition of "Full-Day K" will only move us further!  How might this relate to the Common Core?  Not enough time or space on this edition, but we will discuss that upcoming...

First Year of College available at Stayton High School

Working through the Willamette Promise in partnership with Chemeketa, Western Oregon and Oregon Institute of Technology, Stayton High School has brought over 70 new college credits into being at Stayton High School.  SHS now has over a hundred college credits available. The Oregon Transfer Module is a list of courses that would be recognized by all Oregon State Universities, Colleges and Community Colleges as a first year, or 45 credits.  Stayton High School is projecting that 65 hours of credits will be available for students, which will allow students some flexibility in getting to a full first year.  Course taken through the promise will be $15 per year for as many as you can take, and some courses will be available through Chemeketa which would be a separate cost, yet still reasonable. When you consider that a year of college tuition, books, room and board is right around $20,000, this is a terrific way to start college, for the family as well as the student!  For more information, contact Stayton High School at 503-769-2171.

How does this help improve education--and the State of Oregon? Because it will make a higher level of education for our students more accessible--and more likely.  Most Oregon adults had a high school experience that ended with a relaxed senior year. Most Oregon High School students are not enrolled full-time in their senior years even today. So, just before we go to college, we have a year with less demand--it doesn't make sense. With college courses, we will schedule more fully, and we will have students in relevant classes that accelerate their education as they move on to higher education. And as more of that happens, we will have over time built a workforce with a higher level of education!