Reaching out to students

by: HOLLY M. GILL - The school board was updated on various construction projects. Above, a front-end loader removes chunks of pavement on the north side of Buff Intermediate School in preparation for a paving project. Approval was given to start a Roots Alternative Education Program in Warm Springs at the June 23 meeting of the School District 509-J Board of Directors.

Directed by former Warm Springs Elementary Principal Dawn Smith, the Roots program would recruit from the estimated 100 students on the reservation not currently being served by the 509-J District.

Her team would include a career and technical education teacher and a community liaison. “They would reach out to students, develop community connections, and round up kids that need credits or who have dropped out,” said Superintendent Rick Molitor.

Smith said the program would include, “Field work, guest speakers, credit recovery, everything we can do to get them interested.

There are currently 14 Warm Springs students enrolled in the district’s alternative program. Molitor said if the Roots team could recruit 15 additional students, it would generate more funding.

“We will focus on 30 students to start. If we find 15 students, it will bring in approximately $100,000 in ADM (average daily membership, or enrollment for state school funding),” Molitor said.

Smith said the Roots program would be different from the alternative ed program at Westside in Madras because it would incorporate cultural elements and hands-on, practical, career-oriented learning.

“It’s not just an online credit recovery program … we will build math and science learning into forestry and other classes,” she said.

It was mentioned that there is a waiting list for the current Westside alternative ed program, and some tribal students had gotten frustrated as a result and dropped out of high school. Roots would give those students a chance to return to school.

Molitor noted Roots would still be run as a high school alternative ed option. “The nuts and bolts will have to be worked out. This is an MHS program and under Principal Sara Braman-Smith’s umbrella. There would be alternative programs in two separate locations with clerical and other support from MHS.”

Board members enthusiastically approved the Roots program, noting that they expect it to take off and grow. “If we get the kids for this, we will make sure it gets funded,” said board member Tom Norton Jr.

Proficiency learning

Principal Braman-Smith reported on changes in the proficiency learning program for next year at MHS.

As student report cards shifted from traditional grades to listings of A (mastery), B (exceeds), C (proficient), “not yet proficient” and “not eligible (for credit)” last year, she said, “It did not go as well as we’d hoped, but a lot of students were able to pull (proficiencies) up.”

Students with an NYP can make up the credits they are missing to become proficient without having to take the class again, while those with an NE will have to retake the course.

A staff survey revealed that teachers thought students needed to work on proficiencies (making up credits) outside of the school day. “But that became an accessibility issue,” Braman-Smith said, of students seeking teachers help.

To help with that, a new schedule has been developed, which she said “is not like any others.”

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will have traditional 50-minute class periods, and a 60-minute Power Hour lunch where students can visit with teachers. Meanwhile, teachers will only have a 30-minute lunch, so they will be available during the school day to help kids work on proficiencies.

Thursday and Friday, four classes will meet for 90 minutes, and there will be guide room flextime and a Power Hour lunch.

“We’re trying to move away from flex time being teacher-centered, to it being student-centered,” Braman-Smith said.

A new student progress tracking system “Illuminate” will make it easier for teachers, students and parents to find information. “This will be implemented districtwide, and MHS will lead in starting the new system,” Molitor said.

Commenting on proficiency-based learning, where expectations are spelled out for students, Braman-Smith said, “Now students understand what they need to do, as opposed to before when they were in school for three or four years and didn’t know what they needed to do to graduate.”

Board member Brad Holliday said many parents were concerned that their students were not on track to graduate under this system where students are put in charge of directing their own learning. “The reality is, these are teenage kids and have the ability to learn – but will they?” he asked.

Braman-Smith replied, “They absolutely will learn when it’s there and applicable to them. (With the availability of the Internet) they are learning every day. They just are learning what’s applicable to them. We’ve got to find those connections.”

Contract agreements

The board approved a 2014-15 contract agreement with the Oregon School Employees Association, Chapter 54, for a 1.3 percent cost of living increase, a $10 increase to the insurance cap, and a continuation of the insurance opt-out agreement.

Also approved was a 2014-15 contract with the superintendent, administrators, confidential and supervisor positions for a 1.3 percent cost of living increase, and to allow the opt-out insurance option.

Under personnel, Chris Wyland was hired as the assistant principal for Warm Springs K-8 Academy, while the resignation of Jefferson County Middle School Assistant Principal Trevor Flaherty was accepted, since he has been hired as the new K-8 principal in Terrebonne. Caree King was hired as the human resources generalist at 509-J Support Services.

Teacher hires included: Warm Springs K-8 Academy: first-year probationary, Eugenia Bluebird, Melissa Preston, Jean Bendele, Patrick Donohue, Ervanna Little Eagle, David Colburn, Katie Alvord, and Michelle Zistel. Third-year probationary, Jessica Noonan. Buff Elementary: Brian Horton for physical education.

Resignations included special education teacher Alison Groves, and assistant volleyball coach at JCMS, Jesse Armstrong.

Operations Director Darryl Smith gave a construction update, saying the district was three weeks away from being handed the keys to the new Warm Springs K-8 Academy. A tentative date of Aug. 27, has been set for a formal ribbon cutting for officials, and Sept. 4, during the back-to-school barbecue will be the big community celebration in Warm Springs with tours of the completed school.

With school out, work has begun in earnest on the parking lots at Buff and MHS, replacement of the Buff roof, and at Metolius Elementary work on asbestos abatement, parking lot replacement and an HVAC system.

At MHS, the grandstands have been delivered and will be completed by mid-July, work has started on the tennis courts, and glass is being install in front of the Performing Arts Center and a boiler inside.

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