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Our annual wishlist includes better education, fewer wildfires, smarter policing and more.

Each December, as the New Year approaches, we publish in this space a list of our hopes for the coming 12 months. Rarely have we been as eager as we are today for the calendar to flip to Jan. 1.

2021 will not bring an immediate end to the coronavirus, or magically result in a reopened economy. But this is a moment for looking forward — and for a bit of optimism — so here is our annual wishlist:

PMG FILE PHOTO - Orenco Elementary School students in Julia Snyder's second-grade class get settled and fill out a worksheet on the first day of school in 2019.

Get back to learning

Rising to the very top is an urgent wish for this state to bring all of Oregon's K-12 students up to speed in their education. The COVID-related school closures and the difficulty of remote learning have put young people far behind. This is a generational tragedy in motion, unless state leaders, school administrators, teachers and parents come together around a plan to restore what students missed.

It is well known that students slide back each year just by taking off the traditional 10 to 12 weeks in the summer. Imagine how big the gaps will be after nearly a year of disruption. During the past few weeks, we've been looking at the little data available on Oregon's public schools, and it isn't good. Attendance is down, class failure rates are up. And, in an all-too-predictable pattern, students of color seem to be disproportionately impacted.

One way to make up ground is to schedule more weeks of school into the summer of 2021, or to provide funding for tutors and night classes. Whatever the solution might be, Oregon needs a comprehensive strategy, or thousands of children — especially those from less-affluent communities — will suffer irreparable harm.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The sun glares red through thick wildfire smoke near Newberg in September 2020.

Less smoke, less fire

Sparing Oregonians from the nightmare we all endured this September might be well beyond a heavy lift. But we can all do our part to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The fire that forced the evacuation of Cherry Grove near Gaston this year was started by a downed powerline. Wherever feasible, projects to "underground" powerlines — that is, literally move powerlines underground, where they can't be knocked down by howling winds or falling trees — should be made a priority. Electrical infrastructure may be essential to modern civilization, but it's also been a leading cause behind some of the West's worst wildfires in recent years.

As for the fire that burned hundreds of acres atop the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak area, fire investigators believe it was started by an improperly extinguished campfire. Were it not for human carelessness, hundreds of Washington County residents wouldn't have needed to flee their homes for nearly a week. Maybe now that we've seen firsthand what can happen, we'll all be more careful when the weather gets warm again in 2021.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A child holds a Black Lives Matter sign during a vigil in Raleigh Hills following the death of George Floyd.

Taking community safety seriously

Let's make meaningful changes to public safety in Washington County. Each city has to make its own choices, and each city has different issues and needs. The "defund the police" approach playing out in Portland may not be the right decision for a city like Beaverton or Hillsboro, and while Portland has jumped to remove school resource officers from campuses, our local school boards may reach a different conclusion.

These discussions should be taking place at the local level, and it's only right that they may lead down different avenues. As we've written in these pages before, Washington County is not Portland.

But at the same time, we should not pretend the issues that Portland has confronted in 2020 don't exist in the suburbs. Every major city in Washington County saw protests of its own after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. And in Forest Grove, new protests broke out after an off-duty police officer accosted a family at home, allegedly because they were flying a Black Lives Matter flag, in October.

Racism and injustice do exist beyond Portland city limits. Inequities in policing and criminal justice are far more prevalent than we'd like to believe. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it will take concerted effort to address, but this isn't something we can continue to ignore.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Hillsboro Hops fans wave their towels during Game 1 of the Northwest League Championships against the Tri-City Dust Devils in 2019.

Some 'smaller' asks

Can we politely ask that every state adopt Oregon's exemplary system of voting by mail? We've been at it, in some form, for 40 years now (25 for statewide elections). Think of all the drama that could have been avoided if all 50 states had a similar system in 2020. Perhaps President-elect Joe Biden, when he takes office, could put together a panel to study how Oregon conducts elections, with the goal of advising how "The Oregon Plan" (and its close cousins in Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah) could be replicated in the other 49 states.

Keeping with the theme of common sense, we desperately hope as many Oregonians as possible will choose to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can. For most of us, we'll be waiting several weeks or even months. But it is paramount, especially with new and possibly more transmissible strains of the coronavirus being detected in other countries, that as many adults are inoculated as possible. No vaccine is 100% effective, so stopping viral transmission altogether is the only way to ensure everyone is safe, and life can only return to normal once people feel safe being out and about.

Like everyone, sports fans are rooting for the vaccines to work against the coronavirus so that in 2021, we can again gather at Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro Stadium and other venues to cheer on our local sports teams. With all of our challenges, it's natural to think of sports as superfluous. But in an age when we are more fragmented by social media and by divisions real and imagined, the arena is one place we can replace our differences with a shared passion.

Perhaps even more significant, our wish is that young athletes, musicians, debaters and thespians can return to competition soon and be supported by classmates in high school venues. The value of the lessons learned and connections built through participation in such activities cannot be overstated.


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