Proposal focusing on a remedial reading program for K-3 students

Wayne Looney came to last week's school board meeting with $20,000 dollars in his pocket.

"We have money to spend," announced Looney, referring to a generous allocation from the Prineville Kiwanis, on whose behalf he was speaking. "This money was given to us by the community to improve the community."

Looney's proposed improvement comes in the form of a remedial summer school program for students in kindergarten through third-grade.

A retired high school teacher, Looney hopes to provide under-performing students a chance to catch up over the summer.

"Reading is the most important tool for learning," he explained. "If students get behind in that skill set, they are at serious risk as they move through the educational system."

Board member Doug Smith was quick to praise the idea, saying, “this is something that we could do to show parents that we are trying to help their kids.”

Looney responded, saying that if the board were to lend its support, the community might be more willing to respond, maybe invest.

Looney’s idea not only benefits students but offers potential summer employment for teachers, and upper grade students, within the school system.

The Kiwanis’ proposal calls for a Title 1 teacher, four teacher aides, four high school teaching assistants, and interns from the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council to staff the school.

“For any program, someone has to be in charge and responsible for outcomes,” said Looney, adding that the selected teacher would be charged with developing curriculum and overseeing operations, staff and evaluations.

Looney’s proposal suggests two classrooms, one for kindergarten and first-grade students, and a second for grades two and three.

Classes would meet Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The day would start with breakfast, followed by 3.5 hours of classroom instruction. Before heading home, students would be served lunch. Looney suggested that the summer session would run from June 23 through August 14, providing a total of 32 instructional days.

In addition to the funds donated by Kiwanis, Looney asked for support from the board, in the amount of $10,000, to pay busing costs.

“Transportation is not in the Kiwanis’ budget,” he said. “It would be impossible to move forward without a partnership with the district, paying for transportation.”

This prompted the board to turn to Finance Director Anna Logan, regarding the costs of transporting students. Asked if the requested amount is sufficient to meet the needs of the school, Logan responded that it depended on how many students enrolled and where they lived.

“If you like this idea and want us to move forward, we will work to fit it into the budget,” she said.

Looney’s proposal also included setting suggested tuition amounts.

Looney added, however, that he felt parents needed to exhibit some commitment, adding “the parents have to have some investment in the game.”

Looney suggested tuition fees of $80 per student, with the money refunded given high attendance.

“If someone really can’t afford the school, I hope we can do something to help them be there,” he said, adding that he hoped to have some type of a scholarship program in place.

Board Member Scott Cooper asked about the decision to target younger students.

“Our challenge in the system is not kindergarten through third grade, it is the eighth-grade swing into ninth-grade,” he said. “And, our biggest academic challenge is math, not English.”

Cooper acknowledged that summer creates an unfortunate opportunity to lose a lot of students, but felt that there was a bigger need in helping eighth-graders transition to high school.

“If we don’t get them in eighth-grade, we lose them,” said Cooper, “32 percent of students, statewide, aren’t finishing high school.”

Looney responded that math is planned as a secondary component of the curriculum. As for targeting younger students, Looney felt that the earlier you attend to underperforming students, the better the potential outcomes, saying “the longer kids stay behind, they more apt they are to become a burden to society.”

Board chair Patti Norris summed up the discussion by asking, “This is a great idea, but there are a lot of details to work out. Should we direct the staff to see if we can make this work?”

The board was unanimous in giving permission to continue to study the idea. Ochoco Elementary Principal David Robinson estimated over 100 of his students would be eligible for, and benefit from, the program.

Looney ended the discussion with a sense of urgency.

“We need to get going quickly so that we can identify students that need this program and to recruit the teachers,” he said.

For more information about the proposed program, contact Looney by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by phone at 541-416-9380.

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