State leaders urged to address funding, mental health needs
Representatives from 10 school districts gathered at Clackamas Education Service District headquarters last Wednesday evening to give real-world context to key legislative topics for candidates for state legislature. School leaders prompted discussion on school funding, the educator workforce, social and emotional health, and school safety with 10 sitting legislators and 12 candidates.
"We were grateful for the opportunity to host a meaningful conversation and build the foundation for our shared responsibility as educators and political leaders to provide an excellent public education," said Jada Rupley, superintendent of Clackamas ESD. "We surfaced some of the most pervasive, challenging issues that we are experiencing across the region. Looking ahead, we hope to work together, collaboratively toward meaningful solutions."
Linda Eastlund, special education director at Clackamas ESD; Michael Ralls, director of social services at North Clackamas School District; and Lynn Barry, a teacher at Gardiner Middle School spoke to their experiences working with students needing an increasing amount of mental health resources. According to the Oregon Student Wellness Survey, the percent of North Clackamas eighth graders who "felt sad almost every day for two weeks or more" rose sharply from 23.6 percent in 2016 to 31.4 percent in 2018. Ralls says that about half the students that visit their school-based health centers for physical or oral health needs end up getting referred to a mental health professional.
Estacada School District Superintendent Ryan Carpenter spoke about a looming teacher shortage. One third of Oregon teachers are eligible to retire today, and fewer graduates are entering the teaching profession. He said that in 2015-16 Oregon's initial teacher licensing programs produced 1,793 graduates, but that same year, Oregon districts hired 2,937 first-year teachers.
North Clackamas School District parent Jena Benologa also presented. Sharon Soliday, Children's First board chair, moderated the discussion. You can access a full recording on the Clackamas ESD Facebook page.